Pastor's Desk

gotcha! gotcha!”
Bro. Clifford Hurst 10/21/2018
I wasn’t trying to eavesdrop but, as I was seated, waiting for a church service to start, I heard two ladies behind me chatting, and one responded to the other, “Gotcha.” The conversation was mundane, but, because of my fascination with the dynamics of language, my attention riveted on that one word—Gotcha. One lady shared the place where she had eaten lunch. The other asked, “The one at Neosho?” “No,” the other responded, “The one at Joplin.” The first then said, “Gotcha.” I was struck by the usage because that phrase has contemporarily become so ubiquitous. It is now frequently used to say, as she meant it, “I understand.” “I see.” Yet, Gotcha has so many other usages: Someone has tripped or stumbled. Another catches him and prevents his fall and exclaims, “Gotcha.” A reporter tries to trip up an interviewee with a trick question that will solicit an incriminating or compromising response. It is said the reporter is playing Gotcha. Someone revenge pranks. When the prank has successfully been executed, the prankster declares victory over his victim with a “Gotcha.” Probably, the most basic meaning of the exclamation is, "I have got you," and is used to surprise or frighten someone you have caught, or to show that you have an advantage over him. Thus, Gotcha means to capture. I mean no disrespect by putting slang in the mouth of Holy God, but I began to imagine God saying, Gotcha. When God lunged out of the darkness and grabbed and grappled with the lonely Jacob on the bank of Jabbok, changed his name, and threw his hip permanently out of socket with a touch so that he never walked the same, I can hear Him exclaiming, “Gotcha.” When Zacchaeus, unnoticed by the crowd milling below, was a hidden spectator high in the foliage of the sycamore tree, and Jesus looked up, called him down, invited Himself for dinner, and changed his life, Jesus was saying, “Gotcha.” Saul with letters of authorization was headed towards Damascus to persecute believers when a divine light shone from heaven, and Jesus spoke to him saving him and calling him, changing him from a persecutor to a preacher of the Gospel, it was as if Jesus declared, “Gotcha.” Matthew’s career as tax collector was set and secure. He was making a killing skimming and extorting. But, Jesus walked by and said, “Gotcha.” Oh, how many others. The lady of questionable reputation came to the well at a time when she would not be confronted by tongue-waggers and accusers. But, Jesus was sitting there. Gotcha. Oh, and the fleeing Jonah. As the whale swallows, you can almost hear God say, Gotcha! On and on we could go. Not just Biblical characters. History is replete with testimonies. Here’s just one: Billy Sunday was a professional baseball player. On a day off, taking a walk through Chicago, he encountered a team from Pacific Garden Mission sharing the Gospel. God, said, Gotcha. Billy Sunday no longer played ball. He preached. Oh, the grace of God. We pursue God only to discover that He has been pursuing us. We reach out to God only to discover He has reached for us. Paul put it this way: “…I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.” (Php 3:12). Simply put, he said, “I want to get ahold of what got a hold of me.” God has encircled me in His arms and cried, “Gotcha!” Oh, that I might be able to get ahold of God so I might also declare, “Gotcha.” If you haven’t, the most wonderful thing you could hear God say to you is, “Gotcha.” Then you can say, “Gotcha.”
her truth, his truth, the truth
Bro. Clifford Hurst 10/14/2018
Nothing has spotlighted how postmodernistic our nation has become like the recent confirmation hearings of Judge Kavanaugh. Briefly defined, postmodernism is the rejection of objective truth. Postmodernism is the product of university indoctrination of the last two generations with a solipsistic relativism worldview. Two words recently have revealed the blatant postmodernism—“her truth” Over and over in trying to destroy Judge Kavanaugh with Dr. Ford’s allegation of sexual assault, protests were made that Dr. Ford needed to tell “her truth.” Dr. Ford must be believed when she tells “her truth.” “Her truth.” Whatever happened to “THE truth.” Today, there is no “THE truth” only “my truth” and “your truth,” “his truth” and “her truth.” (I am not addressing the veracity of Dr. Ford’s claim, only using what was done with it as an illustration.) We cannot blame the universities only. Hollywood’s also guilty. And, Oprah. She famously urged each one, Speak “your truth.” Even fairly recently, it was enough for enemies of absolutes (especially moral absolutes) to believe each has his own truth. Now, one has a right not only to manufacture his own truth but also to speak his own truth and be heard. The confirmation hearings took this absurdity one step further. Each has his own truth, should speak his own truth and be heard, and now, thanks to the Kavanaugh-Confirmation saga, he must be believed when he speaks his truth. All of this is based on the idea that truth is subjective and not objective. Each person gets to decide how he wants to perceive, interpret, define, his world, and that determines his truth. His truth is not based on correspondence to reality. His truth is simply his choice on how he wants to view and value things. If he feels adultery is acceptable, it is acceptable, and no one can say it’s not. There are no absolutes to determine whether his view is accurate. There is no accurate. To suggest that there is an absolute truth that says his truth is wrong, is to judge, and the one absolute postmodernists allow is “Thou shalt not judge.” Life simply doesn’t work this way: It’s football season. What if for any given game, each coach, each ref, each player got to choose what he wanted the rules to be? The NFL Rule Book would have to go. So would the refs. Soon there would be chaos. There would be no sense to make of the game. There could be no game. There are three huge problems with having “my truth.” First, whatever I believe, there is still an objective world in which I live. I may believe I can fly. But, if I jump off a cliff, my subjective is going to crash on a rocky objective. “My truth” is going be smashed on “the truth.” Second, if each gets his own truth, what happens when two people’s truths opposingly clash? Who’s right? Whatever the protestations that each one’s truth is equally valid, they cannot be. Unless, an absolute is accepted to judge between the “my truth” of one and the opposing “my truth” of the other, the mob decides. The mob cannot appeal to an absolute to say this one is right, so they vilify the my truth of the one that they do not like. Herein is the blatant hypocrisy we witnessed. If Dr. Ford has the right to tell “her truth,” be heard and believed, why does not Judge Kavanaugh have the right to tell “his truth,” be heard and believed? That inconsistency is hypocrisy in and of itself. But, it reveals another hypocrisy. The leftists made a judgment. They labeled “his truth” a lie and “her truth” true. To be consistent, without objective truth no “my truth” is a lie. Each’s truth is true. How ludicrous. Third, although this whole scheme of postmodernism is an attempt to rid our universe of behavior-condemning, absolute moral truth, it has been unsuccessful. Moral truth is inculcated in the heart of humanity, written on the pages of God’s Word, and founded in the immutable nature of the eternal God. There is such a thing as “The Truth.” That truth is not opened to interpretation, negotiation, or abrogation. There is no “my truth” and “your truth,” “his truth” and “her truth.” There is only God’s Truth. God’s Truth is not subjective. It is the same for me, you, and the other 7 billion inhabitants of planet earth. It is the same yesterday, today, forever. God’s Word tells the truth about the world, humanity and me. The my truth and the truth about me are two different things. So are her truth and the truth about her. His truth and the truth about him. And, that’s the Truth.
“this is what democracy looks like!”???
Bro. Clifford Hurst 10/7/2018
This is what democracy looks like,” is a mantra we have heard over and over from those attempting to justify the crossing-all-boundaries antics of an incensed left during the brouhaha over the recent Supreme Court nominee’s confirmation. Senators shamelessly attack the nominee with twisted, foundationless, knowingly false accusations attempting to assail and incriminate him, and, when confronted with the baselessness and vileness of what they have done, they respond, “This is what democracy looks like.” The media refuse to report any forthcoming thing that would exculpate the nominee but report every vague manufactured rumor they think will impugn him and, when challenged, denying any wrong in publishing what is totally unfounded, demur, “This is what democracy looks like.” Hecklers interrupt the proceedings, yell unsubstantiated, hurtful, vile things, accost someone trying to have supper in a restaurant, shout down a speaker giving an address, stop, as an organized, paid mob, hysterically screaming, a legislator trying to use an elevator, and their defenders nod approvingly and pontificate, “This is what democracy looks like.” I am thinking, “No, this is NOT what democracy looks like. This is what anarchy looks like. You must have no idea what democracy really is.” I am also thinking, “If this is what democracy looks like, I’m not sure I want democracy.” As upsetting as this is to me and to millions of Americans, I’m not writing to explore and expound on what democracy truly looks like and how wrong these leftists are. No, I’m writing because this hypocritically-uttered, democracy-perverting protestation reminds me of a question that I in the last decade have been asking myself over and over: “What does genuine Christianity look like?” Those I mentioned above point at their uncivil despicable behavior and label it with “This is what democracy looks like.” A preacher shouts about hating gays. Members of a church scheme and campaign to oust a pastor because he resisted the church boss. Evangelical youth in great majority profess they see nothing wrong with pre-martial relations—and practice what they profess. Preachers spout curse words while preaching. The most popular pulpit message is the encouraging of each to aggrandize and inflate one’s ego with self-pep talk while he is on his way to fulfilling his dreams of wealth, power, and pleasure. Christians in political arguments on social media post the same ad hominin vitriol as that posted by avowed, atheist anarchists. (All of that is just a random extemporaneous sampling.) Whether we proclaim it or not, the message to society is “This is what Christianity looks like.” Ten years ago, sitting in a church while on vacation, mulling over the state of American Christianity, I kept hearing that question, “What does true Christianity, true faith, true belief, look like?” I began to search the NT. My intent here is not to share any conclusions I came to, but, I must confess, I still find myself looking on at the self- professed Christianity of our contemporary church world and asking, “Is this what Christianity looks like?” Of the hecklers mentioned above I find myself wondering: If that is truly what democracy looks like, why do you have to say so to lovers of democracy? Wouldn’t they recognize it? Likewise, I believe that genuine Christianity is as such that people recognize it when they see it—and when they don’t. I see or experience that which, I believe, is in direct opposition to the teaching of the NT, the Spirit of Christ, love, etc., and ask, “Can those folks in honesty point at their lives, beliefs, and practices and say, ‘This is what Christianity looks like’?” Then I find myself in a greater quandary; can I look at my own life and honestly declare, “This is what Christianity looks like”? I must admit I am much less confident than the recent nominee protesters. I would hate for those who do not know Christ to observe my life and say, “If that is what Christianity looks like, I’m not sure I want Christianity.”
remember not the sins of my youth
Bro. Clifford Hurst 9/30/2018
As I listened to the Kavanaugh hearing addressing the allegation that thirty-six years ago he had drunkenly sexually assaulted a then 15-year old when he was 17, I kept hearing a scripture, a plea of a psalmist, playing over and over in my head: “Remember not the sins of my youth” (Psalm 25:7). I am not saying a person should not be held accountable for his crime. I am not saying that crime and sin do not have lasting consequences and inflict enduring injuries. I am not saying one should escape just retribution for the wrong he has done. I am not saying things should be swept beneath the rug. I am not saying the Judge did it or didn’t do it. I am saying that I believe that many have watched the debacle of the senate supreme-court-nominee confirmation hearing and, listening as Judge Kavanaugh was grilled about his alleged sordid past as a teenager, have, as I, thought, “I would not want the foolish, sinful, and crazy things I did as a teenager broadcasted for all the world to see.” The psalmist must have shuddered thinking of his youthful years when he first prayed and then wrote, “Remember not the sins of my youth.” Unless one is singularly unique, suffers amnesia, is an angelic alien living among us, or is in sharp denial, he has things he has done or thought in his youthful past of which he is not proud. He would not want these brought up. He would not want them made known. He is embarrassed by them. What if the things of your past had been exposed to the public and discussed by all for the past two weeks? How would you be feeling right now? It is painful enough for you just when thoughts of your youthful past unbiddenly surface from your mental archives into your consciousness. No, we would not want the sins of our youth aired. We want any that know of them to forget them. We want to forget them. And, especially, we want God to forget them. God could bring up each of our pasts. He could leak our youthful sins to the world. He doesn’t. He doesn’t bring them up. Not even to us. Not if we have confessed them, repented of them. It is Satan, the Accuser, that never forgets and constantly seeks to bring them. Of course, God being God, has perfect memory of all we have done. “Remember” then, isn’t so much about recall as it is about something being brought up and held against a person. Thus, when we say God doesn’t “remember” our sins but “forgets” them, “remember” and “forget” are best understood not in terms of mental recall but of debt. If it is brought up that you owe me $100, and I say, “Just ‘forget’ it,” I am not saying neither of us will from henceforth be unable to recall that debt. I am saying that I will not bring it up and hold it against you. Your not paying the debt will not be a determiner of how I treat you, respond to you. I release you from your responsibility to me for the wrong you have done me. That God does not remember, that God forgets, means that God will not be bringing my past up and holding it against me. Admittedly, the best way not to bring something up is to forget it, not remember it. If allegations are provable, there are those whose responsibility it is to bring up the crimes of one’s past and hold that one accountable. That said, did it ever occur to those who righteously dragged things up from the Judge’s past, which they hoped would corroborate the alleged crime, that they would not want someone to bring up their indiscretions and foolishness of their youthful years? It is always easier to bring up someone else’s past while hiding one’s own. I am thankful I was not sitting in the Judge’s chair, having my past remembered. I am thankful I was not the one doing the bringing up of his past. I am more thankful that God doesn’t bring up my repented of and forgiven past. If asked of youthful sins, I would have to admit, “I remember”; yet, I could quickly follow with, “But, God doesn’t!”
alexa’s listening!
Bro. Clifford Hurst 9/23/2018
Don’t talk to her,” my three-year-old grandson with fear on his face emphatically instructed me . Having gotten Alexa for Christmas, I was testing her by giving her different commands. Alexa is a virtual, voice assistant that will follow one’s commands to do things that can be done via the internet and with linked devices. It can play requested music, tell you the weather, read the daily news, or turn your lights off or on. My grandson had listened as I began commands with, “Alexa,” and then whatever I wanted her to do. “Alexa, play ‘Jesus Loves Me’.” “Alexa, turn the thermostat down two degrees.” She does not obey in silence; she talks back. “I can’t find that song.” “Ok. I turned down the temperature on your thermostat two degrees.” It wasn’t that I talked to Alexa that got to my grandson; it was her talking back that he found unsettling. She, that little black cylinder sitting on the floor was listening! He could not have articulated why Alexa bothered him. It was an instinctive, innate alarm and aversion he experienced. However, what he felt, I find, is a general concern. Even many adults are bothered about that—about Alexa’s always being there, always listening, hearing every word. Now, Alexa claims only to begin listening when she hears her name. I know, I just asked her, “Alexa, are you listening?” She replied, “I start listening when I hear the wake word (her name).” Okay, that may be, but, if she only begins listening after she hears her name, how did she hear her name? Some have begun using Alexa only to become fearful of her, unplug her, and exile her to some dark corner of a distant cabinet. These have equated Alexa to an eavesdropper with his ear to the door, an FBI planted bug, and a fulfillment of Orwell’s 1984 prophecy. Bolstering such fears is the famous example given of the married couple at home talking about their hardwood floors. In minutes they received a call from one of the husband’s employees miles away who said that he had just received a voice email of everything they had been talking about. (This was possible because Alexa mistakenly heard her name, asked questions unheard by the couple, and then mistook words in the ongoing conversation as answers to her questions.). I continue to use my Alexa, although I am fastidious in believing privacy in the home should be valued and protected—but why I am unconcerned about Alexa’s listening is another matter. What I find interesting are two things. First, many who are concerned about Alexa, the “Alexa-may-be-listening-to-my-private-conversations” folks, are often the same ones who consistently and continually post their private lives on social media. Second, and more importantly, many who are concerned about Alexa’s listening are unbelieving of and/or unconcerned by the fact that God is always listening. And, likewise, God is always seeing. That He does so is true: “Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do.” (Heb 4:13). Worried about Alexa’s surveillance? God hears every word uttered in private (and every thought). Concerned your TV may be watching you? God is—24/7. Now, all that may cause some great distress—and perhaps, should. By the way, Alexa keeps a record of everything she has heard you say--I just accessed the record, some of which is in text, some in audio, of what our Alexa has heard. God also keeps a record of all you’ve said, done. Disturbing? Think: If you had an at-home emergency and could not find your cellphone, you would be glad Alexa was listening when you cried, “Alexa, call ________!” (Alexa will not directly dial 911, but can dial a friend who will). No. I am not distressed that God is listening. He hears my every sigh, cry, petition, and plea. My suggestion about God’s listening is opposite my grandson’s about Alexa’s listening: “Talk to Him!”
praying!
Bro. Clifford Hurst 9/16/2018
Upon reflection I am convinced that more people are praying to God than at any time in history—and not just because the population is larger than it’s ever been. I am convinced by surfing social media, reading the newspaper, and hearing the newscasts. To the many tragedies, dangers, calamities of our world, both public and private, there is a continual response of “I’m praying, “We’re praying,” or, simply “Praying” To save time typing “praying” there is even an emoji of praying hands. A person posts of a crisis in his life, and friends and even unknown, social-media surfers comment, “Praying.” If each of those who posts “praying” is truly praying, there must be an amazing volume and mass of prayer going to the Throne. There must be more prayer happening than ever! Please, I am not trying to be sarcastic or cynical—though I am certainly capable of being so. I’m not. I’m just very skeptical of the reality of each, most, or even a double-digit percentage of the comments “praying” representing a prayer actually prayed. I am not questioning people’s motives and intentions--well maybe. I understand why they say “praying”; there is no better way to show compassion, empathy, love, and solidarity than to say to the sufferer, “I’m praying for you.” People do care. People do want to show it. But, does “praying” mean the person who typed it has been praying? Does it mean that he concurrently prays as he types? Does it mean he intends to pray when he gets off the web and finds a time and place (which I believe is most often the intention, one that is rarely fulfilled)? Or, does “praying” only mean “I care” with no intention of actually praying? In our culture, “Praying” is an acceptable cultural convention of saying, “I feel empathy; I care for you; I am sorry for what you are going through.” Those in crisis are encouraged hearing it. Cynically, I wonder, do some type “praying” because they care, or do they do so to get credit and kudos for caring? Our nature being so insidiously deceptive, without even processing our motive, we each could type “praying” simply to appear to the sufferer and all who see the post that we are a caring, sympathetic or even spiritual person. Now, please, I am speaking generally. I am sure that there are many who never type “praying” unless they have been or will as soon as they can. I am sure that there are those who type “praying” who fully intended to pray even if, ultimately, they do not. Then, there are some who are harangued by an inner voicing crying, “Liar!” if they do not pray. All of this I have mused out loud because I truly believe “praying” has become a convention, whatever the motive for employing it, for saying “I care” rather than a description of the actual act of petitioning God in behalf of another. This is disconcerting because, although people may be comforted by taking “praying” as someone saying he cares, people really could stand the intervention of God that actual praying, petitioning Him, brings. Beyond the kudos one receives from his friend for saying he will pray, is the knowing one actually helped his friend, rather, God did, through his praying. The one that types “praying,” if he prays, can know the tremendous impact that praying can have on those needs he commented “praying” on—and on his own life. In other words, praying will not only benefit the sufferer, it will help the praying one. Making “praying” more than a conventional response but an actual thing changes its meaning when you type it. It still says, “I care.” But, it also says, “I am really praying. You could use the help, and I could use the practice.” After reading this, if in the comments you to me type in response, “Brother, you have a real problem. Praying for you,” I trust you really are.
emotions and pancakes (and lots of other analogies)
Bro. Clifford Hurst 9/9/2018 1
Have you ever noticed how much trouble your emotions cause you? How many regrettable things you’ve done following the impulse of your emotions? How many wrong decisions you’ve made? How many unretractable things you’ve blurted out? (Okay, you haven’t let your emotions do those things to you; but, I have.) Emotions are one of the main differentiators between us and a robot. Or a cabbage. Despite the self-harm our emotions cause, if there were a surgery that could totally extract them, we wouldn’t want it. Are emotions good or bad? Well, emotions are like pancakes. Each one has another side. Our capacity to feel sorrow is on the same pancake of emotion as our capacity to feel joy—just on the opposite side. On the opposite side of anger is contentment. On the opposite of hate is love. I am not sure any can experience true joy without also experiencing true sorrow. (I know I am mixing a lot of metaphors and analogies. Not sure how you’ll feel about that.) Trouble is, even good emotions can be like sugar. Eat a bunch of it, and sugar will take you on a high high only later to plunge you to a corresponding low. Again, I am not for a moment suggesting that emotions are bad; quite the contrary. Emotions are God created. They are wonderful things. Life without emotion would be like flowers without color, fruit without sweetness, birds without song. Life would be all gray with only white noise. But, our emotions took the fall of sin with the rest of us. Therefore, emotions are fickle things, horrible indicators of reality, inaccurate voices for giving directions, and such pesky insisters we act hastily and unwisely. We even expect more than we should from our good emotions. We should not expect our bad emotions to render us good advice on our decisions. We also should not expect good emotion to transform our character, our hearts and minds. Only God’s Spirit can do that. Euphoria, even if we experience it in church, will not make us a better person. What to do with the troublesome blessing/curse of emotion? Let me introduce yet another analogy. Emotions make a wonderful passenger but a terrible driver. If analogously, your life, your heart, your mind, is the vehicle, then something other than emotion needs to be behind the wheel doing the steering. Let emotion be the cheerful, engaging, pleasant, and even talkative passenger. Just refuse to let it take the wheel. (There is no need to advise the obvious of keeping the ugly, hateful, bitter passenger from getting behind the wheel.) The one we should let behind the wheel is that conglomerate of our values, Biblical principles, and our obedient, surrendered will. I suppose I should give several suggestions on what to do about those bad emotions, about how to keep them out from behind the steering wheel, but I have only one: I don’t want to oversimplify, but here it is; before acting on your emotions, express them to God. Air them out in prayer. Place them on the table, or rather, the altar before God. We take what is wrong with our bodies and tell the doctor about it. We should take our emotions to God and tell Him of them. There is so much to be said about what happens when we express the emotions with which we struggle to God, but, I’ve only space to say this: Often, God turns the pancake over, good emotion side up, joy side up.
something wrong with the picture
Bro. Clifford Hurst 9/2/2018 1
Barreling ahead briskly, I was taking one of my daily walks. The trail I perambulated, bordered by trees on one side and mown grass on the other, goes through a beautiful, secluded, picturesque part of the park. I thought I had the trail to myself; then, I could smell their presence before I saw or heard them. Medical caretakers from the nursing home on the other side of the trees had made an opening in the foliage through which they daily carried metal, folding chairs which they positioned to face the beauty of the park. There, smoking, they spent their breaks. Cigarette smoke climbed the sides of the trees towards the beautiful blue above, wafted across the green meadow, and meandered its way along the trail. Immediately and instinctively my mind registered the impression of incongruency, an impression much like hearing someone playing the trumpet hitting an off-key, high-pitched note. Something was wrong with the picture. Now, those ladies may each have been a wonderful person. I do not question their dedication to their patients or their skill and attention in caring for them. That would required prejudiced, unmerited assumptions. Nevertheless, my mind could not fail to register the incongruency—health care workers engaged in a practice that was unhealthy. If any should know of the harm of cigarette smoking, it should be they; yet, they were smoking. If any should warn folks about smoking, it should be they. Yet, they were smoking. No doubt, some or all of them had had or did have patients who died or were dying from lung cancer brought on by smoking. Yet, they were smoking. Yes, however one looks at it, something was wrong with the picture. Something incongruent. Something out of tune. Something inharmonious. Something contradictory. I write this not to take a self-righteous jab at habitual smokers. No. I write because I immediately thought of how so often so many Christians do so many things that are incongruous with the name they bear, the experience they are supposed to have, and the beliefs they are supposed to hold. As incongruous as smoking is to a health care worker, such is an angry, hate-saturated, ad hominin political harangue to a Christian. Hearing curse words coming out of a Christians’ mouth is no different than seeing cigarette smoke coming from a pulmonary surgeon’s lips. Cigarette smoking leaves a pungent scent in the air. So, does self-righteousness. A sour, pompous Christian who looks over his glasses of self-righteousness perched on his snobbishly raised nose with harsh disdain that says to the sinner, “ You are trash,” fills the air with a stench that causes the unsaved to find a detour round him. If the waitress knows one is a Christian, and he leaves a tract instead of tip, she hears a sour note that destroys any song of witness he may have given. The Christian called it evangelism. The waitress sees only selfishness, ingratitude. The driver of the car in front of you is in the uniform of the local children’s hospital. Passing, you see the glow of her cigarette and that fog of the smoke that fills the car’s interior. Incongruent. Yes, but what of the driver of the car with the fish bumper sticker whose road rage has filled and escaped his vehicle? Perhaps, as Christians we each should ask, “When people see my life, do they smell smoke? Do they hear a sour note? Do they remark, “Something is wrong with this picture?”
penetrating oil
Bro. Clifford Hurst 8/26/2018
The power of penetrating oil has often been a wonder to me. I was changing the brakes on my son’s vehicle. Things were going smoothly. The front brakes were completed. I had started on the back ones when things ground to a halt. I could not free the left brake drum to remove it. Oh, I had backed the brake shoes off, but the drum was rusted to the hub. “Seized up,” is how we used to describe such a thing. Taking the drum by opposites edges I tried to wiggle it side to side. Nothing. I pried at it. It wouldn’t budge. Using my ball-peen hammer, I banged the drum side to opposite side and even traced the circumference with blows from my hammer. Nothing gave. Although I didn’t have the exact puller needed, I made an attempt to remove the drum with the one I did have. Nothing relented. (Mechanics, please, indulge me by overlooking what I should have, could have, done.) Frustrated I sat on a stool catching my breath and angrily staring at the stubborn drum. It’s being stuck and unwilling to let go of the hub was holding everything up, devouring any hopes of a free, relaxing evening. I began contemplating a blow torch when I thought of something I should have thought of from the start: Penetrating oil! Retrieving the oil from my work bench, I squirted it all around the hub where it was wedded to the drum. It left a dark ring as it soaked into the rust. I went into the house, for a drink—lemonade, that is. Just a few minutes later, not expecting much after so short a time, I went back to the drum, and, sitting on the stool, I lightly tapped one side of the drum and then the opposite side. Just like that, the drum popped off the hub. So easily. Nothing to it. What had seemed impossible happened after the application of penetrating oil. The Bible often refers to the Holy Spirit as oil. I realize that the analogy of the Holy Spirit as oil was not a reference to its lubrication properties; and, never was the descriptive “penetrating” paired with “oil.” Yet, I do not think it inaccurate or sacrilegious to say that the Holy Spirit is Penetrating Oil. Words used to tout and advertise penetrating oil’s ability are “breaks lose,” “frees,” and “stops corrosion.” Those descriptive actions are in addition to the one in its very name, “penetrating.” All of these things the Spirit does; does when nothing else can. Leading worship services, I would have to describe some of them as I did that brake drum—seized up. Nothing is moving. Hearts are frozen hard. Worship is stiff. Things are just tight. The corrosion of bitterness has rusted fast the arms of worship. The oxidation of apathy has welded the lips of praise. Prayers are stuck somewhere inside souls unable to escape. Once seated in the pew, the sinner cannot break loose to answer the Gospel’s call to the altar. The rust of sin keeps the wheel inside the wheel, from turning when the singing begins. The toes do not tap and neither do the hearts of worship beat. The build up of worldliness in the soul keeps it melded to self-centered thoughts instead of soaring heavenward with the crescendo of the music, the climax of the sermon, the exaltation in the worship. Then, God in grace and mercy begins to apply His Spirit. The prideful façade, the encrustation of bitterness, the corrosion of worldliness, the layers of sin, the rust of indifference are penetrated. God has moved past the exterior into the heart. Tongues are loosened and prayer and praise pour out. Arms break free and are raised in triumph, victory, surrender, and adulation. The singing comes unattached from a horizontal plane and begins to vertically ascend towards heaven pulling worshipers after it. The preacher’s words flow freely from his heart unimpeded, unstopped, unhindered. The corrosion of sin loosens its hold on the sinner, and, breaking lose from his pew, his past, his sin, he answers Christ’s call to salvation’s altar. The world doesn’t let go of the backsliding Christian; the backsliding Christian lets go of the world and weepingly wraps his freed arms around Christ in renewed love and dedication. People are moving. Prayers are going somewhere. The Word has free course. Worship is liberated. Yes, I would have to say the Holy Spirit is Penetrating Oil.
arrogance of the exception
Bro. Clifford Hurst 8/19/2018
America is changing. Recent primaries have revealed a growing support of socialism. The easiest response to this surging favoring, acceptance, and promotion of socialism is to attribute it to its youthful groupies’ just not knowing what it is they are desiring and espousing. We are likely to ask incredulously, “Don’t they know what socialism is?” followed quickly by, “Don’t they know that socialism has never worked?” In truth, I think many of them have at least a rudimentary, howbeit, utopian understanding of what socialism is. The leftist university professors and liberal theologians have made sure of that. I also believe that any thinking and honest ones among them must know that socialism has never, in the end, worked. Currently, Venezuela has been screaming to the world, “Socialism doesn’t work!” Yes, I believe they truly know what it is and that it hasn’t succeeded; I just think they are deceived by something they don’t have and something they do have: First, they do not have an accurate understanding of the nature of humanity. Second, they have what I call the arrogance of the exception: Human Nature: The socialist’s greatest faith isn’t in the idea of socialism. His greatest faith is in the inherent goodness of humanity. Socialism can only work if humanity is inherently good—and it is verifiably not. There is goodness in humanity, but humanity’s default setting is selfishness and every other bad characteristic that makes socialism impossible. Arrogance of the exception: Unless socialism enthusiasts convolute history, and many do, they must know that true socialism, wherever tried, ultimately does not work. How then can the enthusiasts still vehemently tout it much less believe it? The answer must be that they think socialism has not yet worked because the wrong people were in charge of its implementation. Now, if these neo, university indoctrinated, youthful socialists and their mentors were put in charge, it would work—or so they believe. They could do what no other socialists have done. This is what I call the arrogance of exception: Although the historical record has shown something has never worked, because I am smarter, more enlightened, more determined, etc., it will work for me. I wrote this about socialism because I was thinking of those who reject Christ to live a life in the world. These make the same mistake. Their faith is in humanity’s science, reason, philosophies, pleasures, ways, culture, and ability to satisfy the longing in their hearts. Recanting their faith in God, they place their faith in humanity. Cannot they see the wreckage, the emptiness, the hopelessness, the waste, the hurt, of that those who reject Christ to live a worldly life, a life in sin? Certainly, but they truly believe that it will go differently for them. Where others have failed, they will be the exception and succeed. They have the arrogance of the exception. Fornication has led to hurt, betrayal, disease and the like. But, it will be different for me. In all of history none have found true meaning and joy in sin. But, I will. I have seen this over and over as pastor. A young person has it all figured out. He rejects truth, Christ, and the Church. You give him examples of others who have done the same and recount how badly it turned out for them. He insists, “That won’t happen to me.” What I do know is that Christ will work in one’s life. What I can, not arrogantly but confidently, say is, there are no exceptions.
where scriptures are engraved
Bro. Clifford Hurst 8/12/2018
We flew over Washington D.C. looking for scriptures on monuments, buildings, and anywhere we might find them. Well, by virtual simulation that is. Leaning on angled supports with manufactured wind blowing in our face, at super acceleration we sped towards some distant landmark. Descending as we approached the ever-enlarging building, we slowed slightly as we entered through the magically opening doors into the interior, entered as if we were a drone and our eyes its camera. We paused only long enough for our virtually controlled eyes to zoom in on an inscribed phrase, a painted word, or embroidered letters on the scene before us. At each stop the unseen, narrating guide would read those excerpts. Over and over this was repeated as we traveled around the city from site to site. In each case, the detail, zoomed in on and highlighted, was a scripture, portion of scripture, or language extract from scripture. Ubiquitous across our capitol city, mostly unnoticed by the bands of tourists were portions of Scripture, the Word of God. Carved in the wood of a door, chiseled into stone, embroidered into a tapestry, brushed into a painting was the Word of God. From the Capitol building, to the Lincoln Memorial, to the Washington Monument, and to the other edifices along the way we went from scripture to scripture. One example, among the many is the Washington Monument; there are many Scriptures inscribed on the memorial blocks of its walls. But, what impressed me was that on its 555’ apex, on the east side engraved in its aluminum cap are the Latin words translated, “Praise be to God.” Who ever sees it? Yet, it’s there. I was totally fascinated by all those scriptures in all those places throughout the city of our government. Two thoughts began to drown out the narrator as I struggled to keep my balance on the yawing and roller-coastering of the flight: First, those scriptures were inscribed in all those places because the Word of God was once engraved into the moral consciousness and social fabric of our nation. No more. They remain on our edifices but not in our hearts and minds. Those scriptures in our Capitol not only go unnoticed by most tourists, they are largely no longer even considered, mused, perused, or employed by those who now govern in the city and buildings we toured. Second, oh, it is nice that the Scriptures are written in so many places in our Capitol, but, how desperately we need God’s word written in our minds, engraved on our hearts, and imprinted on our souls. What if on our every thought somewhere was engraved the Word? What if somewhere imprinted in our emotions was the Word? What if stamped indelibly on our conscience was the Word? Is this not what God was instructing when He told the people of Israel, “Therefore shall ye lay up these my words in your heart and in your soul, …And ye shall teach them your children, speaking of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt write them upon the door posts of thine house, and upon thy gates:” (Deu 11:18-21). It is the Word that is missing. It may be engraved on our nation’s monuments, but it is missing in our thoughts, our conversations, our rationalizing, our debates, and our decision making. If a virtual tour were taken through the inside world of our lives, the inner domain of our homes, the walls of our places of worship, would we discover there God’s Word, ingrained, impressed, imprinted? What the teacher instructed his son to do with his commandments, “… write them upon the table of thine heart.” (Pro 7:3) we need done to our hearts and minds. Reliving the virtual tour as I type, I hear the words of the old hymn, “Tell me the story of Jesus, write on my heart every word…” I’m glad fragments of God’s Word are engraved on the walls of the Lincoln Memorial. But, I really need the Word engraved into the walls of my heart, embroidered in the fabric of my mind, and painted on the canvass of my soul.
why did daniel open the window?
Bro. Clifford Hurst 8/5/2018 1
Hey, all you fellow introverts, I may just be chatting with you this morning. This past week, reading on FB of a craftsman, who, while working in a house, became overcome with fumes and hospitalized, I recalled times I had used oil or lacquer based paint or combustion-power equipment inside an enclosed space. I remember well that awfulness of being overcome with the accumulating vapors. The instinctive reaction is “I have to open a window.” Although especially true of melancholy introverts, I suspect it may be true of all folks. What? The fact that, when we inwardly are troubled by things, wrestling with a dilemma, hurting from an offense, struggling with temptation, doubts, or weakness, agonizing over a decision, mulling a perplexity—whatever--, the fumes of inner turmoil build, the distress thickens, the despairing thoughts fog, filling our inner being, choking our joy, fumigating our faith. Before we are completely overcome, we must open a window. Sharing what you are feeling, thinking, agonizing and despairing over, or struggling with, is an open window that dissipates the increasing fumes that suffocate the soul intoxicating it with hopelessness and despair. Fortunate is that one who has a spouse, a friend, or a confidant with whom he can share the deepest conflicts of the enclosed room of his inner being. That one, who will listen and love and provide a place to lean, is a true open window of the soul. Usually, we first think of windows as the aperture through which we let something in. “I’ll open the window and let in some fresh air.” But, windows are also the opening through which we let something out. We burn the bacon. We say, “Open that window. We got to get this smoke and smell out of here.” The Psalms are so loved, I believe, because they are an open window to our souls. The Psalms are unique in the Word of God. The other books of the Bible are the Spirit-inspired Words of God to humanity. The Psalms are the Spirit-inspired words of humanity to God. The Psalms give us an inspired way to express the deepest emotions of our soul to God. Many are a window to let the fumes of the troubled mind out. Our prayers need a window. Without an open window our praying becomes our circuitous talking to ourselves and not to God. The Psalmist admonished us to “pour out your hearts before” God (Ps. 62:8). Put another way he said, “Open the window of your heart and let out the fumes.” Today, we call it venting. The need to vent is a need for an open window. To entrap Daniel as he practiced his devotion to God, the decree had been authored and enacted that a person who petitioned anyone other than the king would be thrown to the lions. Knowing this, Daniel went home and prayed at his usual time and in his customary manner—facing an open window. He would not close the window to escape detection and incrimination; he did not leave it open in ostentatious defiance. Why, then, did Daniel “open” the window when he prayed? Biblically, it had something to do with an unimpeded trajectory to Jerusalem. But, could it have not also been because he needed to let out some soul-suffocating fumes through his prayers to God. Perhaps, it was because the room was stuffy. But, maybe his soul was choking. He had to open the window.
how fast is prayer?
Bro.. Clifford Hurst 7/29/2018
Several of us were ziplining, and, bringing up the rear, I had plenty of time to observe. We were sandwiched between two instructor-guides. One would lead the way zipping down to the next platform. When each successive member of our group arrived at his platform, he would give the cable a quick shake to signal the guide at the previous platform to send the next traveler. His whipping the cable sharply up and down sent an undulating wave traversing the length of the line. One platform on which we were perched was 1,500 feet from the next, which, hidden by trees, was not visible. Although the distant guide was unseen, soon I could see the jiggling of the near end of the cable as the signaling wave arrived. I don’t know how fast the wave traveled along the cable. There was a delay of a second or so between the sending and receiving the signal. But, what if the cable had been a long, rigid rod without the sag, and the guide had have pulled or pushed the rod held by the other guide on the previous stop? There would have been no delay between the sending and receiving of the signal. The communication between sender and receiver would be almost immediate slowed only by the time it would take for the sensation to travel the receiver’s nerve path and be processed by his brain. That’s fast communication. Just think. The sun is 93 million miles away. Nothing is supposed to travel faster than light, which travels at 186,000 miles per second. At that rate it takes eight minutes for light to travel from the sun. However, supposing the sun would not incinerate him, let’s say Joe stood on its surface holding one end of a rigid rod, and Bill, standing on earth, held the other end. Now suppose that Joe gave the rod a sharp jerk. Would not Bill immediately feel the movement? Would not Joe’s signal have traveled faster than the light leaving the sun? Physics may debunk this thought experience, but it is still something to contemplate. I don’t know how far away heaven and the Father that abides there is. Perhaps, the “far” between us and God isn’t linear but the distance between dimensions—or between relationships. However, far, I know of something that travels faster than light, and even faster than the movement of the rod between Joe and Bill. It is prayer. Heaven must be further away than the sun—dimensionally or linearly. Faith is the connection between our hearts and God, and prayer is the signal. Prayer is immediate. I pray; He hears. Let me tell you how fast prayer travels. Prayer gets to God before we even utter it. He knows what we have need of before we even ask. As distinctly as I saw the signals traveling along the zipline cable arriving from the other side, so God takes note of our prayers from our end directed to Him. That’s one distance I wouldn’t want to zipline.
what both conservatives and liberals should want
Bro. Clifford Hurst 7/15/2018
Please, don’t stop reading after the next statement. Unlike many conservatives, I do not desire our next Supreme Court Justice to be one who is chosen simply for meeting the criteria that he thinks Roe v. Wade should be overturned, and, thus, the legalization of abortion ended. I think such a desire is as wrong as the liberal who says he wants the next Supreme Court Justice to be one who will uphold the ruling. To me both expectations of a Supreme Court Justice are wrong. Both appeal to the possible justice’s views, desires, and personal intentions. No. I think we should desire a Supreme Court Justice who is knowledgeable, skilled, and honest in interpreting and applying the Constitution and laws according to their literal, contextual meanings and according to the intention of the authors. Although it is impossible for a person to divorce and divest himself completely of his ideology, we should not desire a justice who would bring his ideology to the Constitution and would interpret it according to that ideology. If it is wrong for a liberal to do so, it is wrong for a conservative to do so. If Roe v. Wade is overturned, it shouldn’t be because justices want to overturn it, think it should be overturned, or simply because they are against killing babies. It should be because the Constitution clearly protects life, even the life of the unborn. It should be because murder is murder whether it takes place inside or outside the womb, and the law has declared that murder is wrong and punishable. The liberal reveals his disdain of the literal, intentional interpretation of the Constitution by joining the brouhaha protesting that a nominee for the Supreme Court must “want” to uphold Roe v. Wade. If the liberal believed a literal, contextual reading of the Constitution supported a woman’s right to abort, he would be unafraid of a nominee who has sworn to interpret the Constitution literally and apply it faithfully. The liberal’s panic over a Constitutional literalist nominee reveals that he must know that a woman’s right to kill her unborn is NOT in the Constitution. If it were there, the liberal would also desire a nominee who would literally interpret the document. It is this realization that the Constitution does not allow for abortion that drives both the vitriol against a literalist, constructionist, nominee and the push to get the public to see the Constitution as an antiquated document reeking of historical prejudices that is incapable of addressing our times. Again, if the right for a woman to end her unborn’s life was protected by the Constitution, the liberal should be unafraid of and even desirous of a nominee who would literally interpret the Constitution. Likewise, the conservative should not succumb to thinking a nominee must be found who is driven by an ideology that says Roe v. Wade must be overturned. The conservative should desire that the nominee literally interpret the Constitution. A literal interpretation would protect the unborn and, ultimately, when challenged, overturn Roe v. Wade. A faithful jurist will interpret the Constitution even contrary to his personal ideology and desires. We should desire this of the conservative as well as of the liberal nominee. The same is true of the Bible. The desire should be to interpret it contextually, literally, honestly, and faithfully—even if it goes against one’s preconceived ideology and desires. If what we believe is really in there, we should be unafraid of its literal interpretation. Too often both liberals and conservatives take their ideology to the Bible rather than from it. In the end we would all have to agree with Mark Twain. “It’s not the parts of the Bible that I don’t understand that bother me. It’s the parts I do.” Neither the Bible nor the Constitution are really that unclear or hard to understand. It is what we want to find or not find in them that muddies the water.
feelings, the constitution and the bible
Bro. Clifford Hurst 7/8/2018 1
My wife warns me, “People don’t like it when you say that.” She is right. However, I cannot but believe my observation is correct. Here it is: “When people in the church argue against traditional, Biblical standards of righteousness, invariably they resort to the same kinds of arguments that recently were used in our society to bring about same-sex marriage, legalization of recreational marijuana, etc.” One of those arguments is “Well, times have changed.” The unspoken subtitle of such a statement is, “so, we must change our understanding of the Bible to accommodate the things time has changed.” In fact, the Bible is rarely even consulted in these arguments. The Bible is rarely brought into the discussion because with post-modern thinking, the ultimate determiner of my truth is not some absolute principle or precept or precedent from God’s Word applicable to all, but the determiner is some subjective opinion morphed from what I think, how I see it, what works for me. Although the Bible is rarely consulted or referenced, when it is, how it is treated is lock-stepped with how liberals treat and view the Constitution of the United States. There was a time that the Constitution was viewed as a uniquely profound fixed document to guide free people in self-governance. What its authors had penned must not be detoured from, altered, second guessed, manipulated, or twisted by personal interpretations. Now the Constitution is viewed as a “living document” that must be manipulated, however contortedly, to agree with contemporary liberal consensus. If it cannot be so contorted, it must be declared hopelessly antiquated, incapable of speaking to our day. In other words, wherever the Constitution disagrees with modern sentiment, the Constitution and not modern sentiment is wrong. Much of neo-Christianity treats the Bible no differently than liberals treat the Constitution. We used to take how we feel about things from the Bible. Now we take how we feel about things to the Bible. We used to form the beliefs that governed our lifestyle from study of the Bible. Now we study how to form the Bible to fit our pre-determined beliefs that justify our lifestyle. The Bible used to be the set, unchangeable Truth. Now the Bible is clay we shape by our customized interpretations to fit what it is we have already determined to do, to believe, to practice. Few are alarmed of the violation done to the Bible’s context and intent. Intent. That is the thing that is missing from the discussion of the Constitution or the Bible. What was the authors’ intent? The only intent that matters today, is my intent—what I want the Bible to say. One liners that capsulize what appeals to the flesh, the pride, the ego have replaced the contextual truths of the Bible the may run through many verses or even chapters. A preacher’s one liner holds more sway and weight than a complete quote from the Bible. One preacher gets before an audience and froths out with high-pitched volume a one liner jingle, and folks go emotionally wild. Another preacher gets up and expounds the Truth of Jesus’ teaching, and those same folks yawn and complain about the preaching being lifeless, boring, irrelevant. If the Bible is quoted, phrases that can be packaged as one liners are redacted and extracted, severed from the context that gave them meaning. Thus, we have even infidels appealing to Jesus’ authority with the one-liner, “Judge not.” In the end one’s feelings become the determiner of what one accepts as truth. “Do your own thing,” “Follow your heart,” has become the drum beat of liberality in both church and nation and the guide for interpreting Bible and Constitution. Why would one trust his fickle emotions to be the decider of Truth? Why would one not rather desire an unchanging, absolute, dead-on correct document of unchanging principles and precepts to govern his thinking, decisions, and life? The answer is because the unchanging document may go against what one wants to, feels like, doing, thinking, being, etc. If we are going to bring this down to feelings, there is another feeling that following one’s feelings can never give—the feeling of certainty, security, hopefulness. That feeling comes from recognizing what the prophet said: “Forever, O Lord, thy Word is settled in heaven.”
optics
Bro. Clifford Hurst 6/24/2018
Optics. It is a word heard constantly today. Especially in the news. Especially during this current debacle about child immigrants being separated from their parents. As photos of caged children are flashed on the screen you have probably heard a commentator, either bemoaningly or gleefully, depending on his political leaning, say, “The optics are bad, really bad. Bad for Republicans.” Truly, in a world where we get our news from a screen—and screens are everywhere, screens of smart phones, tablets, televisions, computers—life has become all about optics. For sometime I have noticed while reading or hearing political commentary that optics are the first, the primary, and the overarching consideration. Whatever the issue, the analysis will be, “The optics are bad,” or “The optics are good.” There is almost no commentary of whether the issue itself is bad or the issue is good, only the optics of the issue. Understandably, optics are a powerful thing. Optics are about perception. People’s perception can completely govern their opinions, emotions, thoughts, judgment. There was a time when people knew perception could be deceiving. They wanted to get beneath the perception and find out the reality of the thing, the truth of the thing. Today, not so much. The issue, the reality, has become secondary to the optics. In our postmodern age, only perception matters. The liberals know, if conservatives are perceived as heartless, it will not matter that conservatives by large percentage are the most compassionate, charitable givers of any political block; thus, the orchestrated optics show conservatives as cruel and heartless, and the public believe it. Admittedly, optics truly do matter: A house, wonderfully laid out and structurally strong, can be on the market. How it is staged can be a deciding factor on how quickly and for how much it is sold. The food can taste the greatest; yet, how it is presented on the plate can determine whether it is desirable. A job applicant can be the most qualified, but how he dresses, sits, expresses his countenance can be the deciding factor on his being hired. But, optics aren’t everything. Optics can be dangerous. The house can be masterfully staged in a manner that camouflages its structural unsoundness. The food can be salmonella laced and yet look beautifully appetizing on the plate. The candidate can be corrupt, a con, a criminal and yet appear to be an ideal prospect for a position. Whatever the optics, what something really is, that is what truly matters. “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.” (Pro 14:12). The way that seems right? The optics are good. They’re great! That way has a beautiful, wide, inviting gate. It is such a broad, straight, level road. Look at all the people traveling down it. There are so many. They all appear to be so happy. What are the optics on the option, the other way? What an unpretentious, restrictively skinny gate. Look how narrow, curvy, and often precipitous steep the path is. If it is so great a way, why are there so few on it. That’s the optics of the two ways. The reality is that the first ends in destruction. The second ends in life eternal. Perhaps, one of the most dangerous things one can say is, “It looks good to me.” Optics are not all they appear to be.
peace or bed rest?
Bro. Clifford Hurst 6/17/2018
I want President Trump to succeed in negotiations with North Korea. I want North Korea to de-nuke. I want peace with North Korea. I want there to be world peace. What I want is insignificant and of no import to anyone; I just stated things that way to qualify my visceral reaction to this past week’s news about the summit in Singapore, a reaction that grew more strongly after President Trump’s tweet that “everybody can now feel much safe... . There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea.” My reaction came in the recall of a scripture: “For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape.” (I Thes 5:3). Unlike most of the media, I am not rooting for Trump’s efforts at peace with North Korea to fail. I genuinely desire for them to succeed. It’s just that considering this verse and North Korea’s historic deceptive machinations, peace seems a really farfetched possibility. For two days I could not think of the summit without thinking of Paul’s end of time admonition about not being misled by great, swelling promises and predictions of peace. When prospects for peace seem most promising, unprecedented destruction will crash down upon planet earth. This morning (Thursday) it suddenly hit me: What if I were wrong? What if North Korea did de-nuke? What if the U.S. and that country did sign a peace treaty? If so, it would be great to be wrong! However, as I thought again of the verse, I find it still applicable even if apparent peace comes to the peninsula and the world. Paul said that the destruction at the promise of peace would come as “travail upon a woman with child.” This is reminiscent of Jesus’ listing end time events and then labeling those things as the “beginning of sorrows.” Jesus’ word translated “sorrows” and Paul’s word translated “travail” are the same word—birth pangs, labor. The analogy is of an expectant mother going into labor. Jesus (Matthew 24) highlights the reality that the arrival of birth pangs does not mean the child will immediately be birthed (“… the end is not yet come.”). It could be, but usually not. But, although the arrival of birth pangs does not indicate immediate birth, it does indicate inevitable and imminent birth. The first birth pangs, labor pains, signal that the child is on its way. The labor may be too early. It may be Braxton Hicks. That does not change the reality that those pains inform that birth is inevitable. So, to my point: There are times after labor begins that for the development or health of child and/or mother, it is not advisable to allow labor to continue. To stop or slow the labor, the expectant woman is often put on bed rest. Bed rest may temporarily slow or stop the labor, delaying the birth, but that child is still coming. Peace may be apparently achieved with North Korea. I hope so. But, if so, considering the scripture, the world has only been put on bed rest. The “beginning of sorrows” has already commenced. This or that particular effort, break through, or negotiation may bring temporary respite, a bed rest, that slows or temporarily stops the rush towards the destruction, but that destruction is still coming. Just because the labor pains temporarily subside dos not mean that full-scale labor will not soon return. Ultimately, there will never be true peace until Jesus comes. I doubt He will tweet after He has brought peace, but that is one tweet on peace you will be able to believe. It will not be premature.
taking the knee
Bro. Clifford Hurst 6/10/2018
I want President Trump to succeed in negotiations with North Korea. I want North Korea to de-nuke. I want peace with North Korea. I want there to be world peace. What I want is insignificant and of no import to anyone; I just stated things that way to qualify my visceral reaction to this past week’s news about the summit in Singapore, a reaction that grew more strongly after President Trump’s tweet that “everybody can now feel much safe... . There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea.” My reaction came in the recall of a scripture: “For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape.” (I Thes 5:3). Unlike most of the media, I am not rooting for Trump’s efforts at peace with North Korea to fail. I genuinely desire for them to succeed. It’s just that considering this verse and North Korea’s historic deceptive machinations, peace seems a really farfetched possibility. For two days I could not think of the summit without thinking of Paul’s end of time admonition about not being misled by great, swelling promises and predictions of peace. When prospects for peace seem most promising, unprecedented destruction will crash down upon planet earth. This morning (Thursday) it suddenly hit me: What if I were wrong? What if North Korea did de-nuke? What if the U.S. and that country did sign a peace treaty? If so, it would be great to be wrong! However, as I thought again of the verse, I find it still applicable even if apparent peace comes to the peninsula and the world. Paul said that the destruction at the promise of peace would come as “travail upon a woman with child.” This is reminiscent of Jesus’ listing end time events and then labeling those things as the “beginning of sorrows.” Jesus’ word translated “sorrows” and Paul’s word translated “travail” are the same word—birth pangs, labor. The analogy is of an expectant mother going into labor. Jesus (Matthew 24) highlights the reality that the arrival of birth pangs does not mean the child will immediately be birthed (“… the end is not yet come.”). It could be, but usually not. But, although the arrival of birth pangs does not indicate immediate birth, it does indicate inevitable and imminent birth. The first birth pangs, labor pains, signal that the child is on its way. The labor may be too early. It may be Braxton Hicks. That does not change the reality that those pains inform that birth is inevitable. So, to my point: There are times after labor begins that for the development or health of child and/or mother, it is not advisable to allow labor to continue. To stop or slow the labor, the expectant woman is often put on bed rest. Bed rest may temporarily slow or stop the labor, delaying the birth, but that child is still coming. Peace may be apparently achieved with North Korea. I hope so. But, if so, considering the scripture, the world has only been put on bed rest. The “beginning of sorrows” has already commenced. This or that particular effort, break through, or negotiation may bring temporary respite, a bed rest, that slows or temporarily stops the rush towards the destruction, but that destruction is still coming. Just because the labor pains temporarily subside dos not mean that full-scale labor will not soon return. Ultimately, there will never be true peace until Jesus comes. I doubt He will tweet after He has brought peace, but that is one tweet on peace you will be able to believe. It will not be premature.
don’t interrupt when i’m interrupting
Bro. Clifford Hurst 6/3/2018 1
One of the ironies of our modern society is how outraged people can be over someone's words or actions while they themselves are guilty of the same. It has been discovered that some of the male leaders of the #MeToo movement, who were among the loudest voices in decrying those who abused women, were themselves abusing women. In recent days commentators have taken great umbrage at tweets that have described individuals with offensive language and terms. Yet, many of those very commentators make a practice of lobbing haranguing insults at those who have opposing views. Winston Churchill surrounded at the table with his guests and family always instigated debate on various topics after a meal. Following one meal, Randolph, his son, was trying to make his point. Winston broke in to argue against it. Randolph tried to continue by over talking his father. Churchill barked at him, "Don't interrupt me when I am interrupting." At least he was honest. Although never admitted, confessed or articulated, this is the attitude of those of post-modern society: "Don't judge me when I am judging you." "Don't infringe on my freedom of speech (heckling) when I am violating yours (giving a speech)." “Don't demean my faith (subjective unrealities) when I demean yours (orthodoxy).” “Don't label me for who I am when I malignantly mislabel you.” “Don't point out my real hypocrisies when I erroneously paint you as a hypocrite.” “Don't call me mean-spirited when I condemn you as mean-spirited simply for disagreeing with someone's views.” “Don't call me racist when I call you racist simply because you have white skin.” No, you will never hear these confessions. Yet, this is the blatant hypocrisy that permeates our society today. All of this comes from making the individual autonomous. Each is the creator of his own truth, definer of his own terms, and judge of his own actions. He judges himself by his own truth. He judges others by another standard. There is one standard for himself (the subjective one he designs for himself), and another standard for others. Yes, Churchill’s "Don't interrupt while I am interrupting" is an honest, though proud and, perhaps, unintended confession of hypocrisy. Yet, in the Lord's Prayer I find the same kind of pattern but used in a positive way that could have a transformative effect both on the one who sincerely enunciates it and upon the society in which he lives. Here it is. "Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us."
the word and weed & feed
Bro. Clifford Hurst 5/13/2018
It is probably rather peculiar on Mother’s Day to write of Milkweeds instead of Moms. I figured there will be such a plethora of well-deserved posts on mothers that I would leave mothers to those more poetically inclined. Since moving into a plat, lawncare has become something completely new to me—and competitive. Our new home has a yard neglected for some time. Our adjacent neighbors’ and most lawns in our plat are immaculate carpets of weed-free green. In contrast our lawn looks like a worn, patched, and dirty swatch of work clothes. You get the idea from talking to owners of the perfect, carpet-like lawns that having dandelions on your yard is like having measles on your face. It isn’t just that your face looks bad, but people are afraid they will catch what you have. The lawn-manicuring neighbors are justifiably panicked over the real possibility that the seed of your dandelions will infect their lawn. Such disease spreads quickly. I feel the pressure. Not wanting to spend on professional lawn care, I am determined to transform our lawn via do-it-yourself means. I have discovered Weed & Feed. Naysayers and environmentalists notwithstanding, it seems to me a wonderful idea. In one bag are a mixture of components some which kill weeds—watch out dandelions—and some which feed grass. How clever. I emptied the bag into my new broadcaster and began pelting my lawn with the sleet of Weed & Feed. Days later, I began to see some effect. The weeds, namely those invasive and feared dandelions, were beginning to curl and shrivel. The grass seemed greener and taller. I began to muse how those two drastic, polar results had come from the same bag, the same broadcaster, and the same application. Unsummoned thoughts began to compel me to see what I had done to my lawn with Weed & Feed, is what I do when preaching the Word to a congregation. I fill the broadcaster of my heart and sermon notes with the Word of God. As it takes time to cover the yard, preaching, I take the time to cover the ground of needs that the material of the message addresses. Back and forth. Up and down. Going over the areas missed or in need of more coverage. Here is the amazing thing. Same bag (the Word). Same broadcaster (the message, messenger). Same application (the service, time, place). Yet, the results are often drastically different. Unlike my lawn, the congregations to which I minister consists of far fewer “weeds.” Over and over I have watched the response to the same message. One responds with a flourish of open, grateful hunger. Another shudders and sours. One looks stronger afterwards. Another looks hardened. One is vibrant and full. Another is shriveled and dry. One leaves with new life. Another leaves with the onset of spiritual death. Each was exposed to the same Word. The difference was in the nature of the hearer who responded to it. Simply put, Weed & Feed kills weeds but feeds grass. Jesus said His Word would either give life or condemn. Over and over as He spoke, some sprung to life and some shriveled in anger, refusal, and hardness of heart. Interesting, not just a congregation but each’s heart, including my own, can have its share of dandelions among the grass. Thankfully, His Word weeds not only a congregation but each heart. His word will bring growth to the things in my heart that are good and death to the things in my heart that are bad. I don’t know how my lawn will turn out, but I sure desire my heart to be a carpet of green and growth; thus, I will welcome and keep applying the Weed & Feed of the Word.
flipped
Bro. Clifford Hurst 5/6/2018 1
Historical revisionism, political correctness, and pseudo-theology have successfully flipped perceptions resulting in people’s thinking things are the opposite of what they actually are. There is a perception that Democrats have always been against the violation of civil rights and that Republicans have always been the violators of them. Truth is, not one slave holder was a Republican and most were Democrats. Every law of segregation in the South was passed by Democratic legislators and signed by a Democrat governor. (Please, this is only an example and not a call for debating political party legitimacy.) Nationalists are equated with and maligned as radical-conservatives, as if no liberals are nationalists. Truth is that Hitler was a socialist, as was Gandhi, Mussolini was arguably a Marxist, and Castro was a communist; all were extreme nationalists. Such flipped misconceptions exist in the Church world as well. Christians who espouse applications of Biblical principles in a way that result in a conservative life-style are labeled legalistic Pharisees, thus, equating conservatives with Pharisees. Actually, Pharisees in their day were considered liberals; that, because the Pharisees took the liberty to go beyond the Biblical text in the formation of all their traditions and demands. Churches that utilize only the latest contemporary genre of music, the latest songs, are considered open-minded, and, thus, leading edge. Churches that still employ hymns as a part of their worship are considered closed-minded, and, thus, stuck in the mud of the past. Truth is a church that only endorses and embraces a single genre from the small slice of time of the latest contemporary music is not very open-minded. A church that sings songs from a multiplicity of Christian genres, songs published over the spectrum of centuries isn’t closed minded at all. The first church only serves one dish and all others are castigated as old and unfit. The second serves many dishes judging each on its own merits of being conducive to worship. My point is we live in a world where folks are emotionally reacting to each’s perceptions (actually, preconceptions) and little attention is given to ascertain what the reality of the matter is. Read the post and counter-posts in a Facebook “debate.” The bulk is emotional, opposing reaction to someone’s perception. Most often, the reaction itself is a perception. Objective truth is not often even considered. Folks will not agree that the circle is round and then disagree whether round is good or not. No. One says, I like circles because they are triangular and another says I dislike circles because they are square. If a geometry expert points out that all circles are round, the one that doesn’t like them will only say, “Well, to you they might be round, but to me they are square.” Sadly, often when people debate an issue in Christianity an observer does not hear, “But, the Bible says,” or, “But, this Scripture means…”. The observer would only hear, “Well, I think…,” “To me it means…,” “In my experience…,” “In my opinion…,” “The way I see it…,” “For our times it means…,” Unless rooted in the intended meaning of Biblical texts, all those are simply perceptions. They may be correct. But, they may be actually flipped.
believe your beliefs; doubt your doubts
Bro. Clifford Hurst 4/29/2018
Via YouTube I watched a debate of a Christian with an atheist. The atheist was brilliant. Perhaps, the most brilliant atheist ever to debate. In his closing statement he said something that has haunted me ever since I listened to it. Part of the reason it so disturbs me is that the atheist was dying at the time. He knew it. Any could see it. It showed in the countenance of his face and the loss of hair from treatment. What he said, as I recall it, was, “Some like me are not constituted to believe. I cannot believe.” Hearing that, I felt a tremendous sadness. It seems to me that if the predestinationists, secular or Christian, are correct, then his statement is very well accurate. He is just one of those who were not meant to believe. Sad, but, that’s just the way things must be. The secularists would use the atheist’s word, “constituted,” and the predestinationist Christians would use “created,” or “destined.” However, something Jesus said stands all that on its head. Twice Jesus told people, “You WILL not believe.” Jesus never said that they COULD not believe, were not CONSTITUTED to believe, or not DESTINED to believe. There is no hint at not being chosen or elected to believe; just, simply, WILL not believe. Some would argue that Jesus was saying “You WILL not believe” because as God He knew it was not ordained that they would be enabled to believe. I think not. The double negative construction implies that under no circumstances, by no means, would they believe. If it was meant that these should not believe, then why would Jesus rebuke them for simply doing what they were destined to do—refusing to believe. No, it appears that this reveals that belief is a choice, self-determined and self-expressed. That belief is a choice also seems illustrated and confirmed when people are commanded to repent or to believe. Paul told the Philippian jailer, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.” That is an appeal to the will, an appeal to choice. Now, I am not just trying to haggle over a theological point. To me this is an encouraging note—that belief is a choice: Very often even Christians live in a miserable conundrum because they doubt their beliefs. Worse, they even believe their doubts. Instead of doubting our beliefs and believing our doubts, we could choose to believe our beliefs and doubt our doubts. By default from my fallenness I can doubt my beliefs. By choice I can doubt my doubts. I confess that God must enable my belief. I also am aware that Satan assists and encourages my doubts. But, to be held morally responsible for whether I believe, in the end belief must be my choice—and doubt too. The distressed father of the demon-possessed child implored Jesus, “Lord, I believe; help thou my unbelief.” This appeal can only be taken that the father was experiencing both belief and unbelief. He makes evident which he chooses by his appeal to Jesus to help his belief. He wanted to believe. He could have chosen his unbelief. You and I may be assailed by all kinds of doubts that arise from our flesh, our fallen minds, the world around us, the whisperings from the realm of darkness. We can choose to listen to, give credence to, and entertain those doubts—believe them. Or, we can doubt those doubts and believe our beliefs. Interestingly, when the atheist declared that he was not constituted to believe, he evidently had chosen to believe that. Accustomed to doubting things, he could have doubted that.
something smells
Bro. Clifford Hurst 4/22/2018
Be forewarned: My writing today stinks--more so than normal. I love reading history, not just for what I learn from the narrative of the event or the unfolding of the biography, but also for those tidbits of trivia I come across. Recently, while reading a biography of Winston Churchill, I read, “The poor reeked which was why they were unwelcome in Victorian churches.” How condemnable. How understandable. For centuries, people of all classes infrequently bathed, but especially the poor—and most were poor. Most had only four changes of garments, one for each season. Clothing was worn for days without being changed. Often, it wasn’t even removed at night. People slept in the same garb in which they had labored and sweated in throughout the day. I hate to take any romance out of a wedding, but has any paused to think why brides carry bouquets and grooms wear boutonnieres? The practice originated in this era when people didn’t bathe. People, and not just at weddings, carried or wore flowers to cover their body odor. Often, a person would carry a small bunch of flowers still called today a nosegay. The flowers were to make the nose happy. Thus, its name. Folks who come from the world to church still stink. I’m not talking about from body odor. Body odor comes from bacteria on one’s skin that break down the acids in sweat. There is also an odor that comes from the lives of people who may begin attending a church—an odor, mainly, from sin. Sin does have an awful smell to it, one of decay and death. Depression and discouragement have a toxic odor that causes others to avoid the one in despair. Addiction too has an odor. The psalmist noted that his “wounds” stunk. But, there are also odors that often come from those who have long been a part of a church. Hypocrisy, pride, unkindness, criticalness, and gossip have their own acerbic stench. We who make up a church should pause and think when we feel a revulsion at the odor of those who come reeking of the sin, habits, problems of a life without God. We too have things that stink in our own lives. A skunk doesn’t stink to a skunk. Often a person reeking with body odor does not notice his own smell unless it is by others’ response to him. Sometimes, a person who has an odor will remark and criticize another’s odor. In analogy this is also true: One can be highly critical of what stinks in another’s life and seemingly unaware that there is something that is literally stinking to high heaven in his own life. We should also note Jesus’ example (He, the Rose of Sharon, had absolutely no stench in His life.): When Jesus walked this earth, the poor massed around and pressed upon Him. Yet, we have no record that He recoiled in repulsion of their smell. His enemies meant it condemnatorily, but they actually complimented Him: “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” Most of the sinners that flocked to Him were the great, unwashed poor. I can never forget a pastor’s story of the homeless man who came to church and met him in the aisle afterwards. The pastor said that the man’s stench was so horrible he couldn’t stand it. He tried to give the man money just to get rid of him. The man rebuked him, “I don’t want your money. I want to know about this Jesus.” Chastened, the pastor began to weep and hugged the malodorous man. In his weeping he noticed that the man’s stench had turned into a pleasant perfume like smell. Yes, sin (and the rest of our faults, foibles, failures, hang ups, etc.) stinks to God. Yet, one’s brokenness, repentance, cries for mercy, confession before and to God, turn that stench into a sweet smell. If we would respond to others as God has to us, we would find that their stench too could turn into the most pleasant smell of a God-changed life. Something smells, and it’s not the stench of the unsaved’s problems. It is often the “saints”’ response to the stench of unsaved’s problems. But wait! Something smells!
commitment to church
Bro. Clifford Hurst 4/15/2018
Concerned that they would become established and grow in Christ, Billy Graham would always give his new coverts four directives. He noted that, as he shared the first three, the new converts would nod their heads and smile in agreement: 1. Read your Bible. 2. Pray. 3. Share with others your witness of what Jesus has done in your life . But, as he shared the fourth, he observed, the smiles disappeared, the nodding stopped, and he could feel the pull back. What was the fourth? 4. Find a local church and faithfully attend. Why the loss of smiles? It is inherently understood that being involved in a local church requires faithful commitment. It is a commitment to a way of life. It is commitment that requires giving of oneself, sacrifice. (There goes doing what I wish on Sundays, for example). Today, beyond that individual, inherent resistance to commitment to church, there is an all-out attack against the church. When the Church is not openly maligned, it’s importance is minimized and belittled. Some of this comes from disgruntled former members. Some comes from the narcissists of the millennial mindset (One will never appreciate the Church if he thinks only of himself). Quite a lot comes from church leaders who have built their megachurch/ministry, sold a lot of books, made a lot of money off the church but now preach that one can be spiritual without attending church. All of it comes from the “Gates of Hell,” Satan. None hates the church as he does. Why? Not just because he knows the “Church” is the one entity on earth that does the most to help humanity. No, it is because Satan, hating Jesus, knows that the church is Jesus’ Church. Jesus claimed ownership: “I will build MY church.” The Church isn’t Jesus’ just because He built it. It is His because, Apostle Paul says, Jesus bought the church with His own blood. There is another thing Paul stresses: Jesus loves His church. He built it. He bought it. He loves it. Think of that. Then think how people malign, criticize, disdain, avoid, and devalue the Church. The brains will insist that what Jesus built, bought, loves, is the universal, invisible, global, ageless Church one is automatically inducted into upon his being born-again, converted, regenerated. Oh, that is exactly right. But, Scripture is clear that the universal, invisible, global, ageless Church is locally made manifest, visible, and tangible . The Bible is clear: There is The one and only Church of Jesus Christ. But, the Bible also clearly notes that The Church is made manifest as the Church at Corinth, the Church at Ephesus, The Church at Philippi, The Church at Philadelphia, and even the Church at Laodicea. Despite all their faults, failures, and foibles, these were still the local manifestations of the invisible, universal Church. My bank is a corporation that exists on paper. But, less than a mile away, there is a local branch. The corporation, regardless of however many states it extends, would be meaningless, purposeless, without local branches. I cannot cash a check without a visit to the local branch. The Church is universal and invisible. But, The Universal Church does not lay hands on the sick, counsel the distressed, cook meals for the grieving, mow the widow’s lawn, give an invitation to a sinner, exercise the edifying gifts of the Spirit, hold a prayer meeting, and on and on. All of that is done by the local church. So enough of this, “I love Jesus, but hate the Church.” There is so much to be said about that, but suffice it to be said that in the end, I love Jesus only as much as I love His Church. And, I love His Church only as much as I am involved in its local expression. My commitment to Christ will reveal itself in my commitment to His Church.
what makes the cook better
Bro. Clifford Hurst 4/8/2018 1
Sitting and waiting for my food in that restaurant with the wonderful atmosphere of the smells of southern cooking, the warmth and scent of a wood fire, and the décor of nostalgia, I found myself contemplating a framed advertisement for a gas range. I’m guessing the ad was written to appeal to those who at that time still used wood burning ranges. I took note of it, not because the idea of a gas range appealed to me, but because of the ad’s title: “Miraculous New Gas Ranges Make Women Better Cooks.” Aside from how such an ad today would be considered stereotypical and discriminatory of the female gender, I was struck by its use of a widespread misconception: A better range will not make a woman a better cook. Oh, no doubt, the meals might turn out some better. But, the credit would have to go to the range’s being better, not the cook’s being better. If she were a bad cook with a wood-burning stove, she would be a bad cook with a gas range. Humanity has continually deceived itself with that misconception, that, if it can but improve its world, humanity will be better.. It cannot believe that there is something wrong with humanity and not just its world. Thus, humanity believes that advancements in education, technology, science, medicine, economy will make people better people. Yet, for all the advancements, people are still broken, flawed, damaged, and sinful. A better guitar will never make one without talent a good guitar player. The problem is not humanity’s environment, lack of knowledge, need of money, etc. The problem is humanity itself; each human him/herself. Humanity is fallen. Humanity is a bad cook and no amount of improving the range will improve it. Now there is something that can make a human better. A change: A change, not of the equipment, but of the cook herself. A change of heart, nature, mind, life. Open the NT, begin reading, and soon you will run across this announcement: “Miraculous New Birth Makes One a Better Person.” That I can believe.
living link or linked to the living
Bro. Clifford Hurst 4/1/2018 1
Loving history, I find any living connection to the distant past intriguing. As a child, I did not appreciate the oddity of a great aunt of mine that I would see when she came to visit my grandparents. Because of events I will not take the space to share, her father, my great-grandfather, left her to be raised by his father, my great-great grandfather, then a septuagenarian. Later, as an adult, I marveled that I had known someone raised by someone born in 1808 a year before Abraham Lincoln. I had experienced a living link to one who lived 210 years ago. I thought that was something until today: Having read about the presidents for years, I’m not sure how I missed this. Just minutes ago on the phone a friend asked me if I had heard that there are two grandsons of our 10th president (1841-1845), John Tyler, living today. That sounded like a myth to me; I had to check it out. It’s no myth. It’s true. It’s amazing! John Tyler was born in 1790! John Tyler’s thirteenth child, Lyon Gardiner Tyler was born in 1853. Lyon had two sons born in the 1920’s. They are alive today: Lyon Gardiner Tyler, Jr., born in 1924, and Harrison Ruffin Tyler in 1928. If it could be arranged, you and I, 228 years after President Tyler was born, could talk and visit with his grandsons. What a living link (via their father) to someone born so long ago. Let me share something even more unique and amazing than that. Let me tell you about experiencing, not a living link to someone born long ago, but about experiencing someone still living who was born long, long ago. This is incredible! We can experience someone who was born 2,018+ years ago. He is still alive. Oh, to be honest, He did die in 33 A.D. But, He didn’t stay dead. He rose from the grave! He is alive. We can have, not a living link to this One; we can have a link to this living One. He lives!
“hosanna”: plea or praise?
Bro. Clifford Hurst 3/25/2018
Today is Palm Sunday. Hopefully, at church, you will hear a lot of Hosannas. Look up “hosanna” in a dictionary, and you are likely to find the definition “a cry of adoration, praise, or joy” --or a close variant. That’s unfortunate. Why? It doesn’t convey the whole story. Hosanna was not first a praise but a plea. Many do not know or easily forget that etymologically “hosanna” originally didn’t mean “a cry of praise” but “a cry for help, salvation, rescue.” Wait! On the day of the Triumphal Entry, Palm Sunday, did not the people shout “Hosanna” as a cry of praise and joy? Yes. But, two things: First, Hosanna was a word of their language. For them it did not need translating. What those that day heard in their minds, when they cried or heard others cry “Hosanna,” was the same thing we English speakers hear when we cry, “Save us.” The meaning of “Hosanna” was “Help!” not “Hallelujah.” Second, prior to that day, these Jews had been crying “Hosanna” as a prayer and a plea. In the OT Scriptures “Hosanna” is used as a plea for salvation, help, rescue. For generations this people had groaned under the tyranny of conquerors with only brief respites. For generations they had cried “Hosanna,” praying desperately for deliverance. On that first Palm Sunday, when suddenly it seemed apparent to the people observing His miracles--including raising Lazarus from the dead--that Jesus was that Deliverer, that Savior, they did not discard Hosanna, a plea word, for some other word, a word of praise. No. They only changed their tone. The word was the same, but the emotion and reality behind it had changed. They had pled for salvation, and the Savior had come! The plea for salvation had become the praise for the Savior. “Save us” was no longer a plea for the Messiah to someday come, but, praise that the Messiah had come and would do just that “Save us.” The emotion behind the word “Hosanna,” not its meaning, had changed. But, the plea word had become the praise word. That is as it should be, and it is all well and fine, as long as we don’t forget that Hosanna IS a plea word and has only become a praise word because the Lord has answered the plea. Today, I would love to hear the church resounding with shouts of Hosanna in praise of the Savior who has come. But, knowing the needs and lost-ness of so many folk, I would love to hear the church also filled with the cries of Hosanna as a plea for saving, rescue, help. One’s Hosanna as praise is empty, ritualistic, dead, if it is not a response to the awareness that only Christ can and does meet one’s deepest needs. The people that first Palm Sunday had turned Hosanna from a plea to praise. After the fact that the Savior has historically come to save us, it may be impossible for us now to say the original word “Hosanna” as a plea and anything but praise. But, we can still plead with God. We can use the English, “God, save us.” Knowing the shape of our country, our churches, our families, I sense our need to turn Hosanna from an empty praise to a heart-felt plea. If Hosanna were truly our plea, it would soon become our praise. Our Jesus responds to our Hosanna as a plea in such a way we cannot but soon change our Hosanna into a praise. Hosanna!!!
time to talk back
Bro. Clifford Hurst 2/25/2018
Mystics have often pointed this out about prayer: We spend too much time talking to God and not enough listening to Him. That is a point well-taken. However, I find the opposite is true when it comes to Satan (and to self). I believe we spend too much time listening to Satan and not enough talking back to him. Satan is always trying to tell us something. I am amazed how readily people just listen, give credence to what he has to say, and accept it. Oh, for certain, often he uses a proxy mouthpiece. He has plenty of imps, cohorts, both those who wear flesh and bone and those who don’t. Satan also finds a ready voice and messenger in our flesh. Sometimes Satan uses an accusatory voice; sometimes a tempting voice; sometimes a taunting voice; sometimes a wooing voice; sometimes a condemning voice. Often Satan speaks disparaging remarks about us, and they harmonize so completely with our own voice we fail to realize it is he. He speaks, “You are a failure. You are worthless. You are a loser. You will never make it. You will never amount to anything.” Sometimes He talks to us about other people. “They are laughing at you. They don’t like you. They don’t care. They are better than you. They are hypocrites.” Sometimes he talks to us about God: “God doesn’t really love you, care about you. God has rejected you. God won’t work in your behalf. God’s not going to answer your prayer.” Satan can’t keep from talking this way. His very name means “Accuser.” He speaks these accusations to you. If he doesn’t speak accusatorily, he does temptingly: “It’s ok to do that. It’s not really sin. You are the exception. It won’t hurt you.” Other times his is the voice of doubt, “You aren’t really saved. Maybe, all that about Jesus isn’t really true. Surely, there are other ways.” The above are only a sampling. You know what Satan speaks to you. Whatever it is, talk back. Satan talked to Jesus. Jesus didn’t just listen. Jesus talked back. He talked back, not with cute jingles, platitudes, or Confucian aphorisms. He talked back with Scripture—Bible, we evangelicals would say. When Satan starts talking to you, talk back. Give him some Bible. That’s why it is important continually to be imbibing your mind and heart with the preaching, reading, studying, and memorization of Scripture. When Satan begins talking to you, there is nothing more effective than having a Scripture immediately coming to your mind and heart with which to respond. You then answer Satan, talk back to him, with that Scripture. Last night (Wednesday) in church a sister who has been under heavy attack shared a poignant testimony. She talked about a prolonged period of sickness and failures into sin and how Satan had told her God would not forgive her. Suddenly, Peter’s question to the Lord of how often he should forgive his offending brother and Jesus’ answer came to her. “Seventy times seven, Peter. That’s how often you should forgive.” Her response to the voice of Satan, the voice of doubt and despair, was Jesus’ word followed by, “If God told Peter to forgive that often, will not He Himself also forgive that much?” That’s the way to talk back. Just one thing: Remember that you are speaking to Satan and others don’t necessarily need to hear--kind of like when you talk to yourself; you really don’t want others to hear you. As a preacher, I know what it is for Satan to begin talking to me even while I am trying to deliver the message of a sermon. When young, I would talk back out loud. As I preached, he would begin to harass my mind with things like, “Nobody wants to hear that.” “You’re such a fake,” etc. Somethings he would say were just bizarre. There were times, when the congregation was responding to something I was preaching with worship, I would take the opportunity to move the microphone away from my mouth and say, “Leave me alone. Shut up and get out of here.” One night I forgot to move the microphone. My talk back to Satan boomed over the PA system: “Leave me alone. Shut up and get out of here.” The congregation sat stunned. Ten people got up and left. Well, ok, ten didn’t. But, Satan did. In the past down South, children learned one could get slapped for talking back. But, Satan’s not your authority, and you’re not his child. Talk back.
what honor and dishonor reveal
Bro. Clifford Hurst 2/18/2018
Surely this has already been pointed out by others, but this past week I saw it highly ironic and the height of hypocrisy that some of the very ones who lauded Colin Kaepernick for taking a knee in protest against America at NFL games castigated Vice President Mike Pence for sitting in protest against North Korea at the Olympic games. Let’s get this straight: They honored Kaepernick for dishonoring America but dishonored Pence for not honoring North Korea. No country has championed human rights like America, and no country has violated human rights like North Korea. But, Kaepernick is a hero and Pence is a villain. I have no desire to get into the interpretations of these events involving these two figures or the political arguments surrounding them, but, just taking things as they appear, there is really no other way of interpreting them; if the impressions left by main-stream media are extrapolated, America is to be dishonored, and North Korea is to be honored at “games.” To me, this is but systemic of a deeper problem: Increasingly, in our country what should be honored is dishonored and what should be dishonored is honored. It is all so reminiscent of the prophet’s prescience of a people who “…call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness;” (Isa. 5:20). The most alarming aspect of all of this is that a person’s heart is revealed by what he honors. So is a country’s. There is such a paucity of the use of the word “honor” that I pause to define it: To honor is to regard or treat someone with admiration, respect, and, thus, to give that one special recognition. Take a look at who is honored with airtime, awards, accolades, and applause in the pop media. Next, take a look at who is dishonored. You have just observed the true state of America. As a minister, I have had something happen a few times after speaking: Someone has approached me with the program for the evening, the notes for the meeting, or his Bible, and ask for my autograph. Because of my temperament, that makes me feel more uncomfortable than flattered. Signing the inside cover of a Bible has always impressed me as being a possible violation of the sacred. However, I have autographed the Bible (not claiming to have written any of it) all tense, half-expecting a lightning bolt. That’s just me. I am glad however, that one father explained his request to me. He said, “I want your autograph for my children, because I want them to have ministers, men of God, as their heroes.” I get what he got. It matters who and what we honor. It both molds and reveals our hearts. Take a look at the face of America—it’s movies, music, manipulators of education: Honor is given to filthy talking, filthy living immoral Hollywood stars and ridicule and dishonor to any who attempt to live a Biblical Christian life. A debauched music star overdoses, and his life is portrayed as artistic, accomplished, to be honored. Yet, almost every preacher portrayed as benign, weak, hypocritical, dishonorable. The college student that lauds communist leaders such as Castro is honored. The college student who voices his belief in intelligent design is ridiculed. One who explores his sexuality by mutilating his body in gender modification attempts is honored. A single who professions his/her commitment to remain “pure” until marriage is mocked, ridiculed, dishonored. A gay pride parade in Washington is planned, and the media praises it. A military parade is planned, and the media lambastes it. Jesus pointed out, when vehemently attacked, that all He had ever done was honor His Father; His enemies, on the other hand, had not ceased to dishonor Him. Simply put, they honored and dishonored the wrong things. To Jesus, what they honored and dishonored revealed their hearts. It still does.
i am’s in two different keys
Bro. Clifford Hurst 2/4/2018 1
Last week I noted how, if one truly listens to the intended meaning of Scripture and then listens to the popular Motivational Gospel of Self-help/Self-esteem, one would find the Motivational Gospel as out of key with Scripture as a saxophone playing in G while a piano was being played in Eb. Take a message of one of those most famous American preachers today and listen to it next to a message of Jesus. Someone is out of key—and it’s not Jesus. Let me give you a specific example: One part of the Motivational Gospel is an encouragement for people to confess and declare—in exaggerated positive terms—who they are. Congregants at church are encouraged to go through a liturgical litany of “I am” statements. Listen to what the motivational preacher prompts people to say: “I am blessed. I am prosperous. I am successful.” “I am victorious. I am talented. I am creative.” “I am wise. I am healthy. I am in shape.” “I am energetic. I am happy. I am positive.” “I am passionate. I am strong. I am confident.” “I am secure. I am beautiful. I am attractive.” “I am valuable. I am free. I am anointed. I am accepted.” “I am approved. I am prepared. I am qualified.” “I am generous. I am excellent. I am equipped.” “I am empowered. I am well able.” Notice this is a kind of lying. A person is encouraged to declare these things whether or not they are in reality descriptive of that person. But, that’s not the point I’m making. The point is to take these coaxed self-declarations begun with an “I am” and followed by all those positive, elating, self-commendatory descriptions and listen to the music of that message. Now, as that music is playing in your head, listen to the music of the I am’s of the people of God in Scripture: “I AM not worthy of the least of all the mercies…Thou hast shewed.” (Jacob, Gen. 32:10). “I AM the least in my father’s house.” (Gideon, Jdg. 6:15). “I AM undone, a man of unclean lips.” (Isaiah, Isa. 6:5). “I AM not worthy [to unloose His shoe strings]” (John the Baptist, Joh. 1:27). “I AM a sinful man.” (Peter, Luk. 5:8). “I am the least of the apostles.” (Paul, I Cor. 15:9; note also Phi. 3:1-10). “I am a worm” (Psalmist, Psa. 22:6). Now, honestly, was the music of the I am’s encouraged by the motivational preacher even remotely in key with the I am’s of the people of God in Scripture? A qualifier is important: I am not saying one should declare negative things about himself. If a person is saying things like “I am so dumb. I am ugly. I am nothing but a failure. I am worthless. I am #@%*#@,” that is not right nor in tune with the Good News of the Scripture. Never is such a sadistic fixation on how flawed I am right, healthy, or God prompted. Those declarations come from my absorption on my own brokenness, flaws, lack, etc., or are suggestions from satanic voices, or are impressed upon me by some abusive, controlling, or bullying person in my life, or are symptoms of some mental illness. They are just wrong. Never is cutting oneself down right. Neither is it genuine humility but often a form of pride, self-fixation. The difference between such and the examples I quoted above, is that the people in the Bible by stating, “I am____” were responding to how they actually appeared when in the presence of and compared to God. It was the reality of who they were. The music of the motivational message’s I Am’s leaves me wondering, “If I am so good, why do I need Jesus.” The music of the I AM’s of scripture reveals to me just how badly I need Jesus. See, when I am united with Jesus, God looks at me and sees, not my sin, flaws, twistedness, disobediences, etc.” He sees the righteousness of Christ (and begins to make me like Christ). What joy. If I declare all the above I Am’s of how great and whole and complete I am, what need or joy is there in being clothed with Christ’s righteousness—a very inherent ingredient of the True Gospel. What joy in singing, “He is all my righteousness, I stand complete in Him and worship Him.”? In the end, it is not a matter of who I am, but who He is. There is only room for one “I AM.” (But, that’s another blog.)
something is out of tune
Bro. Clifford Hurst 1/28/2018
“Man has become his own savior, his own maker,” I kept interjecting and mumbling to myself. While exercising, I was listening to an interview with one of the superstar preachers of American Evangelicalism. If ever there were a motivational speaker, it is this preacher. The listening crowd was going absolutely wild with applause and shouts. If there were ever a message on Self-Help/Self-Esteem, his is. Over and over I heard things like (paraphrasing), “In you there is someone great. You can make yourself become that person.” “You form the future you.” “You need to sow the seed of what you want to be.” “You need to build relationships with folks who will help you become a success.” “Follow your dream.” I AGREED with almost everything he said. Almost everything he said was true—IF it were only a parenthetical part of a larger qualifying context. That is the problem: What was said was not a part of a larger message. It was the message. The larger context is man has free choice, but he also has a depraved nature. Man can and must take personal responsibility for himself and his life; but, man cannot save himself, change himself. Each has been specially created by God and bears His image. But, there is none righteous, no not one. Each has been uniquely gifted. But, each is fallen, broken. Man can do great things. But, man cannot save himself, change himself. Presented in its own packaging, its own standalone message, the Motivational Gospel of Self-Help/Self-Esteem is nothing less than Humanism. Yes, humanism. Any references to God, Jesus, the Bible are obligatory, parsley on the plate to make what’s served appear Christian. One could edit out the few references to Scripture, God, and Jesus and not alter in the least the Motivational Gospel of Self-esteem. Oh, admittedly, Bible phrases and illustrations are used. But, the Bible stories are not used to illustrate Biblical truth but the Self-help/Self-esteem philosophy. The Bible phrases are not used within their context-supplied meaning, but as “proofs” of the established tenants of Self-Help/Self-Esteem. If you really just listen to that message, it truly is humanism; man truly is his own savior, his own maker. Thus, although lip-service is given to the Gospel of Jesus, in the end the message is You Are Your Own Savior, Your Own Maker. If you doubt my premise, please, take this challenge: Listen to a message of Self-help/Self-Esteem, and then go read one of the prophets’, or John the Baptist’s, or Jesus’, or Paul’s, or Peter’s, or James’, messages. If you do so impartially and honestly, I really believe you will discover the modern message is totally out of tune with the messages of the Bible. Speaking analogously, if the message of Self-help/Self-esteem is in the key of G, the messages in the Bible are in the key of Eb. Only the exegetically tone deaf would think the two harmonize. The Self-Esteem Gospel by itself can sound awfully pretty. But, played right beside the Bible’s message, it is gratingly out of tune. What sounded pretty becomes recognizable as a cacophony of humanism. By the way, the right key is the Bible’s. Speaking of being in key, listen to the Self-help/Self-esteem message and then listen to Oprah. The Self-Help/Self-Esteem message is far closer in tune to Oprah than to Apostle Paul. In fact, the speaker I listen to referenced Oprah, not Paul. Of course, if the defining measure is what will draw a crowd rather than sharing the intended message of the Bible, then you choose the message of Self-Help/Self-Esteem and defend it. But, leave God out of it. Wait, He already has been left out of it. The Gospel used to be preached proclaiming what God could do with your life, how God could change who you were, how God could mold, shape, and form your life. The Gospel was how God was the Potter and we are the clay. Now, we are told we are both clay and the potter who shapes it. Frankly, I’m more comfortable with God as my Potter. I feel safer in His hands than in mine. God-made sounds far better than Self-made.
trailblazer
Bro. Clifford Hurst 1/21/2018
I have explored both the Arctic and Antarctic, sailed around the world, hacked my way through the Amazon jungle, ventured into hidden valleys out west, and hiked the whole Appalachian Trail. All of these I have done at night lying in my bed—vicariously--reading of others’ adventures. I enjoy taking short hikes in real time. But, I really enjoy reading the stories of through hikers of the Appalachian Trail and ones challenging like it. I get to hike those trails and never get my boots and socks wet, a tick bite, or an infected toe. I never get lost, hungry, thirsty, or have to try to sleep on hard ground. Currently, I am reading the account of one who hiked our very own Buckeye Trail. The Buckeye is a 1,444 mile long circuitous trail with smaller in-route loops that roughly follows the inside perimeter of the state of Ohio. The account I’m reading is Daytonian Andy Niekamp’s. As I read the record and reflections he recounted of the rigors of the trail, I found myself constantly reminded of this Way we believers travel through this world towards heaven. There were just so many parallels; I wish I had space to share some of them. As I near the end of the book and the end of Andy’s hike, there is one thing he has often noted that has somehow deeply impressed me: Evidently, one of the worst things to encounter on a through hike, even worse than rain, cold and hot temperatures, steep inclines, mud, flooded paths, and relentless hot sun, is an unmarked and un-maintained trail. It appeared to me from his journal, that there was nothing more tiring, discouraging, and unpleasant as trying to hike a trail one continually keeps losing due to absence of markers or one that is continually blocked with fallen trees, wash-outs, chest-high weeds, etc. Unmarked, un-maintained trail—the discouragement of the hiker. There were times Andy seriously contemplated quitting. The Buckeye is marked by blue blazes. Early pioneers that carved a path into Ohio and other frontiers during the years of western expansion were said to have “blazed a trail.” To blaze a trail was to locate, clear, and mark a trail for others to follow. The way a trail was marked often was by one with an ax notching trees along the edges of the path. A notch on a tree cut away the darker bark and left much lighter wood shining almost white. For Andy, often the blue blazes, the trail markers attached to trees, could not be seen. They were hidden by weeds, faded, or had fallen off. Reading of his struggle with an unmarked trail, I could not help thinking of the trail of faith we are traveling. This Scripture kept coming to mind: “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.”(Heb 12:2). Author and Finisher! Although the context is the imagery of a race and “Author” has the idea of Beginner, Leader, etc., and “Finisher,” has the idea of Completer, Perfecter, it is not hard to see Jesus as the Pioneer of our faith, our trail. He went before to blaze the trail for us to follow. Not only did He blaze the trail, He perfects it. Not only can we be assured that our trail reaches all the way home, we can know that He will keep it opened, maintained. However tough it gets, He has made it so we can keep on going, and so we can get to its end. Really, the only thing required of us is to walk this way. After noting how discouraging an unmarked, un-maintained trail was, Andy later noted the joy of walking an unblocked, clearly marked trail. I know, spiritually speaking, there is inclement weather, muddy bogs, steep inclines, attacking mosquitoes on this trail we walk. Yet, we can know the joy of walking a way that has been clearly marked, that will never be so blocked we cannot proceed, and that will, if traveled, get us all the way home. We can thank the Author and the Finisher of our faith, our Trailblazer, for that.
the darkness before
Bro. Clifford Hurst 1/14/2018
The Glory Usually, I let one sermon go as I become engaged with the next. Consequently, often, if out of the blue you were to ask me on a Sunday afternoon what I had preached that morning, my mind would go blank. I couldn’t immediately tell you. I don’t think that is amnesia or age; it’s just moving on to the next sermon. Last Sunday Evening while introducing our church’s 2018 theme, I preached “Pursuing His Presence,” using as an illustration the story of Moses desiring to see the Glory of God before traversing the wilderness. There was a point I made that night, that in all honesty was incidental, but I cannot let go of it in my mind. I keep remembering it. Believing that that main meaning of Scripture is the original intentional meaning, I never want to be guilty of eisegesis—reading something into the text that is not there. So, I acknowledge the point I made comes from using the story as an illustration and not from interpreting it. Here is that thought: God told Moses that He would indeed show him His glory. But, God said, as it were, “There is a little problem with your seeing my glory; you can’t and live. Not, a full dose of it anyways. But, here is what I will do. See that hollowed out place in the rock bank over there? Crawl into that nook, and I with all my Glory will pass by. I will cover the opening of your nook with my hand as I draw near, pass by, and then after I have passed, I will remove my hand that you might see the back of my glory as it recedes in the distance.” It struck me that, when God placed His hand over the opening of the cleft where Moses sat, it would have shut off, not only all the light of God’s glory, but the natural light of the sun as well. It had to have grown awfully dark in that cleft. As God was passing, Moses sat in complete darkness, seeing nothing. The application I made was this: We must remember, as we seek God, that often we will go through awful darkness just before we see His glory. The effulgence of the glory of God must have been even more brilliant to Moses for his having just been in such darkness. Just the remaining rays of the back of the passing of God’s glory must have totally lit up that little cranny in the rock. Many believers are often disillusioned, disturbed, and despaired over the darkness that descends on them even when they have been doing all possible to seek God, believe God, serve God, live for God. The darkness of grief, loss, reverses, confusion, doubt, depression, hurt, betrayal, trial, temptation, etc., has closed in upon them. Perhaps, even someone reading this today, for all your serving God, you feel like you are sitting in awful darkness—a darkness of life and soul. Remember, it got awfully dark for Moses too—awfully dark, just before the light flooded in. Today could be when God removes His hand and the Light of His glory floods your life and soul. God in His light and glory had been on the other side of that darkness the whole time. Yours too is the darkness before the glory.
believing what we believe
Bro. Clifford Hurst 1/7/2018 1
They sure don’t have much faith in what they have faith in,” was my reaction to the diatribe of despair. The news report had been about the disappearing ice caps at the poles. With alarm the interviewed authorities, almost at the point of hyperventilation, were lamenting that this was evidence of climate change perpetuated by us humans, and that this climate change was going to result in the disappearance of many species from our earth. Now, these calamity howlers would deny that what they believe has anything to do with belief, with faith. However, in the end, every world view begins with some basic presuppositions, assumed truths, that cannot be proved--every world view including those of the evolutionary materialists, and, yes, including those of evangelical creationists. (Although, it seems apparent to me that the evidence for the creation presupposition far outweighs any, if there is any, evidence for the evolutionary hypothesis for the origin and sustenance of life.) Yes, despite any protests on their part, these who were agonizing over the extinction of species due to climate change have placed their faith in the evolutionary process. It is the irony of the contradiction of this faith and their despair over disappearing species that generated my thought, “They don’t have much faith in what they have faith in.” Their faith is in the process whereby a species is able to adapt in order to survive in the environment of its existence. My question is, why are these species not simply evolving to survive the supposed climate change? If these evolutionists had faith in what they believed, they would not despair. They would believe that the evolutionary process was more than adequate to respond to the climate change. At this point I cannot resist noting a huge problem I have always had with the evolutionary theory: If a species must evolve in order to survive, how does it survive in order to evolve? But, back to point: If they had faith in the evolutionary process, they need not worry about the disappearance of species. Or, perhaps they should because of another of their conclusions they must keep suppressing: By their own estimations, 99.9% of all species that have ever existed have already gone extinct. Almost all of these became extinct before human existence and did so because of far more drastic cataclysmic climate change than any that could possibly be attributed to humanity. No wonder they are so filled with despair. They can’t even believe what they are supposed to believe. My righteous fervor in pointing out their hypocritical lack of faith had hardly died down before I saw a finger pointing at myself and other Christians. We too often have little faith in what we have faith in. We see the future stretching out before us as the eons stretch out behind and ahead of the evolutionists. We say we believe that God is sovereign, that God works all things for our good, that God will protect and provide. We say we believe Jesus when He says He will care for us like He does the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. Yet, we look around at our present and ahead to our future and feel a panic, a despair. Problems seemingly loom so large, threatening, intimidating. We often go on our own laments of how bleak the future appears. We fail to believe what we believe, to have faith in what we have faith in. We, not they, have every reason to have faith in what we have faith in. Their faith is based on a theory, a past concocted out of conjectures without any empirical substantiation. Our faith is based on a Living Being, One who has revealed Himself. Our faith is rooted in the reality of the historical evidence of the Person, Life, Death, Burial, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ! We can believe that kind of belief!
it’s not the mattress!
Bro. Clifford Hurst 12/31/2017
I felt an urge to go over to him and interrupt him with, “Don’t bother. It’s not the mattress.” I was at Sam’s Club, and, as I browsed, I noticed a man near middle age peppering a salesman with questions as he lifted a mattress to sense its weight, ran his hand over its surface, squeezed it between his hands. He may have genuinely needed a new mattress, but in all probability, I could have saved him money. When Sandra and I were nearing forty, we noticed that we could not sleep in the same positions we had for years. We not only would hurt in the night and frequently have to change positions, we would awake with cricks, cramps, pains, and stitches. After discussing our new-found aches, we concluded it was the mattress. It had been given to us and was now over twenty years old. Our aching had to be because our mattress was just worn out. So, we went shopping to buy our first mattress ever. We did the peppering the salesperson with questions, lying on the mattress, squeezing it, etc. We wanted a good one to last us, so we spent around $700 (16 years ago). After just a few nights we knew we had bought a bummer. The cricks, cramps, pains, and stitches were still there when we rose in the morning. We tried to correct our poor choice of mattress and soon upgraded and bought another one, a more expensive one. Perhaps, we had bought too low a quality the last time. This time we spent around $900. Bringing it home, we anticipated a transforming night’s sleep. We would sleep without twisting and turning to get comfortable and would awake refreshed without pain. Not! We twisted and turned and awoke with the same cricks, cramps, pains, and stitches. What kind of shoppers were we? Had we been too miserly? Shortly, we found ourselves back at mattress shopping. This time we got a good deal on an even higher quality mattress. The mattresses were on sale! (Aren’t they always?). We got a $1,200 mattress for much less! It was designed differently and gave us a lot of hope. With anticipation we lay down that night. Alas, we awoke with the same cricks, cramps, pains, and stitches. It was then, three mattresses later, we had an epiphany: Our problem was NOT the mattress! The problem was us! No one had adequately warned us of what middle-age felt like at night. In life and ministry I often encounter folks with complaints, perceived-grievances, hurts, dissatisfactions, unhappinesses. Almost always, they blame the “mattress.” Their difficulty is because of this other person, that thing or this thing. It is another family member, a fellow church attender, this leader or that leader. It’s their home, work, or church. If they would only realize, their discomfort and displeasure and dissatisfaction does not come from that other thing. It comes from themselves. It is not the mattress. Spending more money to change mattresses never helped us in the least. Changing relationship, employment, church, etc., will not help in the least. Perhaps, I could have saved that man some money. I am sure lots of folks could be saved from more anguish if they would only realize their problem is not the mattress. It is who sleeps on top of it.
missing from the manger
Bro. Clifford Hurst 12/24/2017
Originally, as the tense reveals, I shared this fifteen years ago when our youngest was a toddler. Please don’t hold him accountable today; he was awfully young then: Jesus is missing, and Andrew’s to blame. Andrew carted Him off. Our family collects nativity scenes. Once I built a stable, and we invested in some pretty nice figurines of the people and animals at the stable when Christ was born. As the children got older, we moved the scene from a higher shelf down low where they could play with it. They loved arranging and rearranging the nativity characters. This year, however, we have a toddler. That nativity had to go back to its high shelf. We were prepared for this. At some point when the children were small, Mom had made a nativity that was of cloth stuffed with cotton. One can’t break a stable and characters made of that stuff. This nativity Mom now put on the floor so Andrew could play with it. Andrew can’t break this nativity, but he can scatter the characters, cart them off, and lose them. He did so with Jesus. Jesus is missing from His manger. No one can find Him. Whenever Andrew gets near the stable or plays with the characters we ask Him, “Where’s baby Jesus?” “Baaaa-bee,” he replies with raised eyebrows, hands stretched out, and palms upwards. But, alas, Andrew has yet to surrender Him or show us where baby Jesus is. So throughout this Christmas season our family keeps asking, “Where’s baby Jesus?” That’s not a bad question for all of us to ask during this busy Christmas season. Where’s baby Jesus? Where is the Christ of Christmas? Is He missing from our activities, thoughts, and celebrations? Where’s baby Jesus? I hope we’ll find Him—the one missing from our manger and the one missing from our hearts.
the word and “what?”
Bro. Clifford Hurst 12/10/2017
Tis the season to be…thinking about the Incarnation. Some things you just don’t get until you get there. Before I got married, I would have never gotten this comedic comment. In fact, it probably wasn’t until I got about fifteen years into marriage that I would have gotten it. “It” is the quip I just read: “90 % of marriage is simply yelling ‘What?’ from other rooms.” Until you get there, you won’t get it; so, I will explain it for those who haven’t and don’t. It involves one of those unique things about wives that simply dumbfounds husbands and causes them to gaze wonderingly but lovingly at them. I don’t share this as a flaw in a wife. It’s only one of those endearing differences that keep husband and wife from getting bored with each other. I certainly am not trying to start a gender war—not in today’s climate, anyways. It’s just one of those ways that God gives unity through diversity. But, enough of rambling. Let me just tell you how it is: When my wife has something really important to tell me, she might be right beside me in the room, but she immediately heads to the furthest most room of the house. Opening the door of that room’s closet, she seeks out a shoebox in its most distant corner. Leaving the shoebox in the corner, she takes off the lid and with great care she whispers into the box what she needs to tell me. It took lots of practice and remonstrations for me to realize that when the house gets that quiet it is because my wife is telling me something really important. I have even learned to recognize that distant mumble rumble as being her voice. None of it is distinguishable as communicable words, so, instinctually, a yell of “What?” always and regrettably slips out of my lips. I have revealed the unpardonable: I did not hear, or, rather, as it will be otherwise interpreted, I was “not listening.” At this point, whether I go to find her, or upset at not having been heard she comes to find me, the next words are very clear, “You are losing your hearing. You can’t hear anything.” No, I did heard that I can’t hear. When God had something really important to say to us, He didn’t go stick His head into the inner core of a distant planet in the further most solar system of the further most galaxy in an exponentially distant parallel universe. He got as close to us as He could possibly get. He came to the “house” where we were. He came to our planet. He came into our humanity. And here, paradoxically, although He came to the same house, it gets a bit like it was with my wife. Instead of saying what He had to say in the palatial courts of Rome or even Jerusalem, He went to the backroom of a place called Bethlehem. There in the closet of a cave-barn on the outskirts of that backroom, He put His Word, what He had to say, in a manger, as it were, a shoebox. Yet, there was no mumbling to that Word. It was heard clearly; Mary wondered, the angels shouted praise, and the shepherds came and left forever changed. Never was that Word secretive, unclear. At His trial Jesus pointed this out: “I spake openly to the world; I ever taught in the synagogue, and in the temple, whither the Jews always resort; and in secret have I said nothing. ...ask them which heard me, what I have said unto them: behold, they know what I said.” (Joh 18:20-21). Yes, Jesus has come into the room with something to say. He will even stick His head (so to speak) into the closet of your heart of hearts. No reason, to say “What?” You can hear Him. (My wife can have equal time next week if she chooses.)
not just a cute baby in a manger
Bro. Clifford Hurst 12/3/2017
Tis the season to be…..thinking about the Incarnation. We Christians are rightfully consternated by the commercialization of Christmas and are saddened by people not getting the reason for the season. We can take only so much of “Happy Holidays” replacing “Merry Christmas” and fat men in red suits instead of nativities with a cute baby before protesting: “Christmas isn’t about all those things.” It is about a baby called Jesus being born. Yes! Well, no! Christmas isn’t just about a baby being born called Jesus. Christmas is about something truly more remarkable about that birth. The remarkable thing isn’t that the poor mother was a virgin or was far from home and could find only one place to give birth—a cave-barn. It wasn’t that the baby was laid in a feeding trough and lullabied by lowing of cattle or soft baaing of sheep. The remarkable thing was that baby was God birthed as humanity. We call this the incarnation, literally, “in the flesh.” The wonders of the incarnation are not just in its nature but also in its purpose. It wasn’t just that Jesus was God, but that He was born to reveal God. Before I fell asleep last night, an analogy made this so very real to me: A genius can have the greatest of thoughts--a breakthrough idea, a brilliant enlightenment, a revolutionary epiphany. But, that idea will remain unknown to the world unless he expresses that thought in words. But, words can only be known when expressed in some type of physical medium. He can speak the words. That takes physical air vibrating physical vocal chords passing through and shaped by physical mouth and tongue. Or, it takes a hand holding a pencil leaving physical graphite on paper. Or, it takes pressing physical keys and creating fonts of pixels that can be seen on a screen or printed on a page. The unseen thought can only be known when transposed into some type of physical medium even if it is only an expression or a gesture. With the limitation of our finite humanity, we cannot know another’s thought in any other way. God is such that we could never know Him unless He is expressed in a physical medium that we can see, hear, feel, handle. In the OT that was words in stone, fire, the voice of prophets, a cloud of glory. But, as a written letter communicates more fully than a smoke signal, the NT introduces a physical means of communicating God far beyond fire, a glory cloud, words in stone, or a voice of a prophet. The means was the human person of Jesus Christ. “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” (What I am about to state is not in reference to the theological meaning of “the Word,” the logos, but only an analogy of it.) God had a “Word,” and He expressed it in the physical medium of the humanity of Christ. When grown, Jesus acknowledged this declaring, “He that has seen me has seen the Father.” The Apostle John noted the physicality of that Word, but saying, “That which was from the beginning, we have seen, we have heard, we have handled.” John was noting, “We get who God is because He was expressed in a physical medium so we could.” This is what Christmas is all about. God came to us in a medium by which we could know His mind, hear His words, know His way. However unworthy, convoluted, unclear, valueless the thought I had last night was, you could have never known it had I not physically typed it out so it could be in a medium you could physically read. Likewise, we could have never known God had not the Word who was God became physical humanity. Of course, there is one more thing: I can write my thought , yet, you not read it and, thus, never know it. And the Word can come in the flesh, and one not “read it” and never know God. That wasn’t just a baby in the manger. That was God’s Word to us. (And this was just one of the wonders of the incarnation.)
report or repent
Bro. Clifford Hurst 11/12/2017
I knew something was really bothering me about this recent, continuing spate of outing sexual predators, especially those of the political and Hollywood worlds. Cynically, not for a moment have I believed it was truly about the victims. From the very start of the frenzied accusing and reporting I smelled the Pharisaical hypocrisy of (victims excluded) those who were fixated on accusing and reporting the predators. It made those involved feel very righteous indeed. Someone had been wronged, and the reporters had taken the victim’s grievance as a cause—readily so, because it fit their template that women in America are targeted to be discriminated against and exploited. What is really going on with this contemporary outing of sexual predators became clear to me when I remembered the story of the woman caught in adultery being dragged to Jesus by the Pharisees in an effort to entrap Him. Self-righteously, these “reporters” of the crime said, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of adultery. Now, the Law says stone her. But, what do You say?” What did Jesus say? “Stone her.” Yes, that’s what He said. “Stone her. Get your rocks, men.” “O.k. Got them? Good. Now, we are going to select somebody to begin this here stoning. Hhhhm. Let’s start with the fellow here that has no sin in his life. Step right up and be the first to hit this woman with your rock. Come on. Let’s get this stoning started.” Suddenly, every accuser was frozen. The only sound heard was stones thudding to the ground from fingers loosened by sudden loss of enthusiasm. The stones dropped first like a few sprinkles then like a downpour. Then, beginning at the eldest (perhaps, because he was wiser and first saw what Jesus was saying, or, perhaps, he’d lived longer and had accumulated more sins), to the youngest, the would-be stoners ducked their heads, quietly stepped backwards out of the mob, then whirled and hurried away. They were caught and convicted. Yet, they would not repent. They simply backed out of the spotlight of Truth. Jesus was NOT letting the adulterous woman off the hook. Among other things, He was underlining the hypocritical tendency of the human heart: We humans with righteous gusto and disguised delight are ready and quick to accuse and report others’ sins but are so very reluctant and slow to repent of our own. This is emblematic and systemic of our society today (especially made manifest in the political correctness, millennial world.) This is what the frenzy of this outing of sexual predators is all about. It is about, unwilling to repent of their own wrongdoing, accusers and reporters feel passionately righteous and noble to have a cause of unearthing and exposing these harassers, molesters, abusers. It is incredulous to ask us to believe that there is genuine concern for the real victims. Many of the outers and other accusers have long known these incidents were going on. It’s all a part of the debauched society in which most of them participate. I am not arguing that sexual predators should be dealt with leniently or get off free--not at all; the accusations should be investigated and the perpetrators should be prosecuted and sentenced to the fullest. Neither am I suggesting that there have been no victims nor that the pain and hurt of such crimes is to be minimized; There have, and it shouldn’t. Nor, that victims should not report; they should be encouraged to report and supported when doing so. The point is those who so readily report others’ sins are unwilling to admit and repent of their own. As I accuse the reporters above of their sin of hypocrisy, of their willingness to report others’ sins rather than repent of their own, I must realize I just did the same. I am more willing to report on the reporter’s hypocrisy than to repent of my own. And we just thought the Pharisees had gone extinct. Did I just hear a rock drop? Perhaps, my own.
a dog chosen over a man
Bro. Clifford Hurst 11/5/2017
People of modern society, I already knew, are obsessed with their pets. When spas for animals, offices for animal psychologists, and funeral homes for pet memorial services and burial are popping up ubiquitously, there is strong indication people are really getting into their pets. But, how into their pets are they? Two recent, major studies have confirmed earlier ones: Humans love their dogs more than other people. Varied research projects have been conducted. In one people were asked to which cause were they most likely to donate—the one to save a dog from a slow, painful death, or the one to save an adult man from a slow, painful death. People felt sorrier for the dog; they chose the dog’s life over the man’s. Similar studies revealed the same: When asked, “If a dog and a man were in the path of an oncoming speeding vehicle, and you had opportunity to pull just one out of its path, which would you choose?,” people again chose the dog. Reporters seemed satisfied simply to conclude that people love their pets more than people, but I can’t keep from wondering just what is the real cause. I cannot begin to get my mind wrapped around “Why?”. I really think it has something to do with the same reason we can be kinder, more considerate, and friendlier with rank strangers than we are with members of our own family. In any case, there is not space here to ponder the root reason. Some studies added a variable that might offer some explanation. When the adult male was replaced with a young child, then the human child was chosen over the dog. Phew, humans aren’t completely devoid of empathy and compassion for their own kind! “Own kind.” I’ll have to get back to that in a moment. So, perhaps, this greater love for the dog in the first study is actually a matter of empathy. In the two studies the thing the dog and the human child have in common is that both are considered in the larger scheme of things to be helpless, defenseless, and vulnerable. The adult is, well, an adult. He should be able to take care of himself. I do see a marvelous analogy—and it goes back to “own kind.” The majority of the people in the studies did not chose the man, one of their own kind. They chose the dog, one of a different kind, species. In spite of our being created in the His image, there is as much disparity between God and us humans as there is between us humans and a dog. It is the difference between humanity and Deity. Yet, God empathized with us. He chose us. “Wait,” you exclaim, “I must interrupt. Are you saying that God chose us, the ‘dog,’ over a ‘man’?” Yes, I am. It was not a speeding car which was bearing down upon us. It was death, destruction, and eternal punishment. It really came to this: Would God save us or His Son? God chose us! His Son died. What love! Contrary to the studies that conclude people love animals more than other humans, God does not love us more than His Son. But, He loved us so much, He gave His Son for us. The dog in the hypothetical scenario could never know that, when in the path of the speeding car, it had been chosen over the human. It might not even be able to comprehend it had been saved. We can. We have been saved. We have been chosen to live and the Son to die. We have been loved. (This is not meant to be negative of pets and pet-lovers.)
it's ugly; i won't look
Bro. Clifford Hurst 10/29/2017
My walks in the early morning darkness take me past yards that recently have been decorated for Halloween. There are dogs with elongated, bloody fangs and red eyes—and simulations of people with the same. There are skeletons, witches, and demonic looking pirates. There are zombies, vampires and witches with warts. There are black freakish cats, ghoulish goblins, dwarfs, and devils. I’m not fearful, but I do no more than quickly divert my eyes. I don’t want to look. To me, it’s all just ugliness. Nothing cute about it. None could honestly look at such a display and say, “Oh, that’s so beautiful!” Unless you are an osteologist or such, I cannot imagine your thinking that a human skeleton is beautiful. I’m sorry, but to me, it’s ugly. If God meant our skeletons to be beautiful, He would have made them external. Is it any mistake that the world always exalts the contorted, the distorted, the mutilated, the mangled, the deformed, the malformed, the aberration, the abnormality, of all God created, of all that is good and wholesome? The eyes are enlarged, mapped with red arteries or are all red. The features of the faces are contorted. The figures are twisted. And, folks think it is cute when even small children, targeted by marketing, become fascinated with those twisted representations, and beg to buy or watch such. Parents buy the children the toy figure, the T-shirt, the Halloween costumes, and let them watch on TV all that ugliness. I do not understand this fascination and fixation with the dark and distorted. What is happening is so clear, you’d think that folks would awaken to what is going on. God is about beauty. Satan is about ugliness. God is about light and life. Satan is about darkness and death. God has light emanating angels. Satan has repulsive imps. God in a life gives one a pleasant countenance. Satan in a life gives one a dark, dull, hardened, lined countenance. From vampires to zombies to the demon possessed—all things that are so ugly and dark—all of it--is glorified in today’s world. This is not only by satanic design, it is a true reflection of reality. Evil and sin are ugly. Good and holiness are beautiful. Sin makes dark, dirty, defiled, deformed, and destroyed. Good makes alive, peaceful, enlightened, whole. God made the world and its human inhabitants beautiful, “good.” Satan, sin, and evil took the same and made it all ugly. Increasingly, I see the ugliness of sin. Abuse is ugly. Racism is ugly. Adultery is ugly. The ravage of alcoholism is ugly. The consequences of drug use, ugly. Betrayal, ugly. The perversions of sex as God created it, perversions from fornication to homosexuality to transgenderism, ugly. One may protest that I feel this way because beauty is only in the eyes of the beholder. That may be so, but that is more frightening. What is in the heart and head of someone who would see beauty in death, the dark sided, the demonic, the distorted…. None can ever look at the display of God in the world, in a human, in a face, in an act, in a word, and say, “That was ugly.” No, where there is God, there is only beauty. So, no, I can’t and I won’t look at the displays of darkness, distortion, death, and demons and say, That’s beautiful! It’s not. It’s ugly. But, oh, the beauty of God. I’ve seen that beauty on the face of one who came to repent and to surrender his life to God. He came hardened, troubled, dark in countenance. He arose with a shine, a glow, a peace, of forgiveness. I have seen God intervene in a marriage that was about irreparably to split apart, but as the two sought God, there was a healing, a reconciling, a remerging of hearts. I have seen, as God made Himself known and hope rise in the face of a child who has come to church from an house of drugs, perversion, and squalor. Now in those things there is beauty. Oh, the beauty of forgiveness, the beauty of reconciliation, the beauty of hope. The beauty of love. The beauty of God. I will take a look at those things. No ugliness there.
your entire vs partially yours
Bro. Clifford Hurst 10/22/2017
Their being the only thing of their private life she could keep from becoming public Martha Washington destroyed all the letters of their correspondence upon George’s death in 1799. Only three letters escaped. Two of them had slipped beneath a drawer. One of these was a letter that the General had written hastily when he was on the front lines during the Revolutionary War. It revealed Washington’s warm affection for his wife. It was his closing that caught my attention: Your Entire, George Washington I do not know if that was a commonly used closure for a letter of that day or a unique expression of our first President. I was, however, struck by it: “Your Entire, George Washington.” What an expression of devotion. I am sure Martha was moved by and appreciative of such an expression when she read it. If he’d felt less than complete devotion, George would not have been unwise enough to state it, but just think if George had confessed in his closure less than complete devotion. Think of how it would sound. Think of how Martha would have received it: “1/2 Yours, George Washington,” or, “Partially Yours, George Washington,” or “75% Yours, George Washington.” I have read of people who have closed their verbal prayers to God like they would a letter: “Sincerely Yours, _________” Or, “Your Humble Servant, _________________” If true, wouldn’t it be a fitting closure to a prayer to employ George’s words: “Your Entire, ___________.” Of necessity the question arises, Could I really address myself to God with such words and they be truthful? “Your Entire, ____________” Or would it be more accurate to express myself to God as “1/2 Yours,” or “Partially Yours,” or “Somewhat Yours”? As we can see how “Your Entire, George Washington,” would have moved Martha’s heart and how “Partly Yours, George Washington,” would have been disappointing and disturbing to her, to say the least, we can also easily imagine the difference our expressions would be to God. Of course, if His nature were different than what it is, He could be indifferent to any of our expressions or declarations of ourselves to Him. But, how He must be moved and pleased hearing from us, “Your Entire,” and how disappointed (anthropologically speaking) He must be to hear or perceive our “Partially Yours.” Instead of an actual letter, think of your worship this Sunday morning. After you have expressed your worship, how could you truthfully sign off? “Your Entire, “ or “Partially Yours”?
preparation is everything
Bro. Clifford Hurst 10/15/2017
We (with help) just remodeled another house. Again, I was reminded of what every remodeler, handyman, and craftsman knows. Preparation is everything. When putting new materials on an old construction or surface, preparation is everything—and, often, takes the bulk of the time. Against my inclinations, nature, and preferences, I have learned to read the directions, or, okay, at least scan them. There is normally a segment of the instructions headed with the word “Preparation:” What follows is, not only what you don’t want to read or hear, it is what you’d rather not do—it’s all so time consuming. You would rather just get started with the new stuff—paint the wall, lay the floor, join the pipes. However, you can’t get on with the new until you take care of the old. Whatever else the preparation instructions contain, I was struck with how often on even widely different products they contain the following or similar words: “…must be clean and free of foreign matter…” There is other stuff the instructions say. But, mostly, “clean and free of foreign matter. Read the “Preparation” segment of the labels of paint, tape, glue for an example: There it is: “Surface must be clean and free from foreign matter.” If these preparation instructions are not followed, the project will not turn out as expected, will not look very good, and often will be totally botched. The thing is, it does not matter how good the new material is, if preparation has not been made, it isn’t going to turn out right. Not at all. It goes back to “Surface must be clean and free from foreign matter.” In Scripture there is this principle, seen especially in Chronicles, of one preparing his heart to seek the Lord. In Church history, a group which enjoyed God’s active moving and presence was a group of people who made preparation for their times of worship. They were a people who “prepared for the Sabbath.” They would spend time at home praying before services and/or would come early before service to pray and to seek God. What a difference this makes in worship. The singing, praising, praying, preaching, listening, is all so much better. Preparation is everything. Whether one has an assigned role or not, preparation for Church worship will make all the difference. And, I am not just talking about the need for musicians, singers, drama performers, tech operators to practice. I am talking about preparation that is needed before new materials can be put in place—making sure the surface is clean and free from foreign matter. What would worship be in a service, what would the singing sound like, what would moments of spontaneous praise be like, how would the Word sound, if each had made careful preparation before that worship to make sure the surface of his heart was clean and free of foreign matter? Whether a paint is a poor grade or the very best quality, if the surface is not clean and free of foreign matter, the results are not going to be good. It matters not if the singing is amateurish with missed notes or professional enough to make it on Youtube. It matters not if the preaching is poor or soars. Whether or not the refreshing, wonderful, needed new of God’s work takes hold of my heart or not, depends on preparation. Did I enter into worship prepared, “clean and free from foreign matter.” Preparation is everything. After all, you can’t get on with the new until you have taken care of the old.
what is your favorite bible verse?
Bro. Clifford Hurst 10/8/2017
Pastor, what is your favorite Bible verse?” It all started with that question. One day a week ago a brother was working with me and asked this question. In one sense, that is a hard question. Different verses are favorites at different times, usually dependent on what we are currently experiencing. I instinctively answered with one of my all-time favorites, “Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: …” (1Jn 3:16); then, I asked him his. This all got me to thinking: A person’s favorite verse says a lot about him, his theology, his desires, his experiences. The same is true for a church. A representative sampling of the favorite verses of the people of a given church has to reveal a lot about that church’s beliefs, emphasis, mission, and over all character. This must be true for a movement too. All of this is unscientific, since it is based solely on my observation, reading, and experience, but consider if it is not true. Accepting the above premise, cannot we see evidence of a huge shift in evangelical Christianity simply by the contemporary favorite Bible verses of today’s evangelicals? If you wonder what these verses are, take a look at all the poster image posts on social media. It appears that the bulk of favorite verses relate to God’s blessing a person, a person being endowed and anointed by God, a person being special, and a person’s dreams coming true. Two things sadden me about this (Even though I do believe God wants to bless and endow us and enable us to fulfill our life’s calling.) First, there is a matter that many of these favorite verses are ripped right out of their original contexts to be applied erroneously to individuals. A promise to the nation of Israel with immediate historical realities is applied indiscriminately to an individual. A verse applied without context is a verse applied without qualifications or parameters. Second, when I contrast today’s favorite verses with the favorite verses loved by evangelicals for over two centuries, it is sad to see what today’s church has become. Today’s church has not done a very good job at keeping society’s narcissism and self-absorption out. Here’s what I mean: While many of today’s favorite verses are about me, blessing me, endowing me, etc., the favorite verses for two centuries or more were about doing God’s will, pleasing God, seeking God, following God, etc. (This does not deny that verses of God’s promises have always been favorites.) This was made clear to me while trying to encourage a struggling believer. I opened a Bible to Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart…” and said, “Here are some verses that can really help you through this. I am sure you are familiar with these.” I was shocked by the response as I showed this individual the verses, “No, I didn't know these were in the Bible.” A case could be made that this is just one individual and there is nothing to what I am saying. Perhaps, but just listen to today’s folk’s favorite verses, favorite sermon texts, phrases of verses in worship monologues, and posted verses. Then, think on a whole what are the bulk of these about? Simply put, are they not about my being blessed rather than my glorifying God? Just a thought. By the way, what is your favorite Bible verse? And, what would that reveal about you?
what would it be like not to worry?
Bro. Clifford Hurst 10/1/2017
No worries.” I literally detest that phrase. What kind of denialist says that? There is plenty to worry about. For starts, I worry that some may not know what worry is. “No worries,” apparently, has Australian roots that can mean something as benign as “You’re welcome.” We Americans have adopted and adapted it to mean, “No problem.” I have a problem with that. Worry is far more harrowing than “No problem.” Worry is thinking about problems, fears, and the future in such a way that one becomes anxious, upset, and distressed. Worry is torment. Worry is a skill. That’s why it seems so demeaning to minimalize the word and those who worry with flippant statements such as “Don’t worry about it,” “Why worry?,” and, “Most things you worry about never happen.” On that last one, “Most things you worry about never happen.”: True. But, some things you worry about do happen. Your worry is not in vain. In fact, the more things you worry about, the bigger chance you have that something you worry about will happen. Worry is such a part of life it ought to worry us when nothing worries us. If nothing meriting worry seems wrong in our lives, something must be wrong. Because, wrong is usual. What is wrong with me if I can’t see anything wrong in my life worth worrying about? If you are a worrier, don’t be down on yourself. Actually, by worrying, you reveal your superior skill and knowledge. I know something of cars. My wife knows nothing. As we travel down the highway and the car develops a peculiar rattle, my wife doesn’t worry. She doesn’t know enough about cars. With my superior knowledge of cars, I worry. I can easily extrapolate a small rattle into a precursor of a blown engine. Someone has to worry because some folks just refuse to. I don’t know if those who don’t worry are simply inattentive, disconnected from reality, defective, or deceived by their own bravado. Or, I think, perhaps, those who boast of not worrying are covering up. That’s it; they truly are worried, but they are covering it up. They are closet worriers. Not all. No. Some are too lazy to worry. Worry is a lot of work. Worry is draining. Worry is strength and joy absorbing. Thus, some people who claim to have the peace of God and do not worry are, in fact, just too lazy to care. If you insist, “No, really, I just don’t worry,” I truly worry about you. I also worry that some will not realize that this I’ve written is satire. If you didn’t realize it, I worry about my ability to write. If you did get it, I worry about my ability to worry. In all my worries, which cover a wide scope and spectrum, I have never worried about one thing: I have never worried about God worrying. God doesn’t worry. That gives me an idea: I will turn my worries over to God who doesn’t worry. He’s not too lazy to care. He can just care without worrying: He cares, but He doesn’t worry. He knows, but He doesn’t worry. He hears, but He doesn’t worry. I would really worry about you if I knew you weren’t inclined to turn your worries over to God who doesn’t worry. On more thing worries me: What it would be like not to worry? I remember folks singing back in the 70’s a song about heaven: “I Won’t Have To Worry Anymore.” I worry whether I could feel much at home in a place where there was nothing to worry about. What’s attractive about a place with no worries? For you to see what I mean, I’ll end with the words of the chorus: I won't have to worry, When I reach the other shore All my troubles will be over, And I'll rest forever more My eyes will be on Jesus, And my heart will be aglow And I won't have to worry anymore
glad that's in there
Bro. Clifford Hurst 9/24/2017
Have you ever wondered what it would be like if only one story had been left out of the Bible? Take, for example, the story of David and Goliath. Or, the story of Abraham offering up Isaac. Or, the walls of Jericho falling down. What of the story of the Lady with the Issue of Blood? What if that story had been left out. What if it happened but was never recorded? Worse, what if it had never happened? What if that very ill, hemorrhaging lady had never gotten out of bed, gone into the street, pushed through the crowd, touched the hem of Jesus’ robe and been healed? Think of the undoubtedly multitudes of Christians through the centuries who have found inspiration from that story of that Lady and have kept pressing forward through every obstacle until they received help for their need. Without her story, they never would have. Let me tell you of one who found inspiration from the Lady’s story: After our annual 2002 Thanksgiving service, our younger daughter, Hannah, ten at the time, came home complaining of stomach pain. We thought it must have been something she had eaten at our Thanksgiving Snack we have after the service. The pain persisted the next day. We took her to the doctor. It was surmised the pain came from a virus. The pain the next day or two only increased. We took her to the emergency room. At first appendicitis was suggested but examination ruled that out. All night she would roll back and forth across the floor moaning and screaming in pain. We were in and out, back and forth, to her pediatrician’s office and the hospital emergency room. Her pediatrician suspected a rare disease, but there was no presentation of its external symptoms. In the next couple of weeks, our daughter, unable to eat, lost a fourth of her body weight. During those nights of rolling on the floor in excruciating pain she began to pray, “Please, God, just take me to heaven. I can’t stand the pain anymore.” Then the disease presented its telltale external symptom. The pediatrician sent her to the emergency room. After x-rays, she was wheeled immediately into OR for emergency surgery. Her small intestine had been consuming itself (intussusception), and it had almost reached the point of dying. After surgery and about five days in the hospital, she was sent home, and, we thought, the ordeal was over. Not so. She had been released just a few days before Christmas, and, I went out to do the postponed, belated shopping for the kids’ gifts. I was just leaving one shopping center for another when my wife phoned. In a frantic voice, she exclaimed, “You have to get home right now. Blood is pouring non-stop out of Hannah (She was passing blood.) and she’s screaming in pain. We have to get her to the hospital!” I responded, “Ok. I will be there in a minu…” At that moment a drunken driver in a pickup sped through a red light at the intersection I was crossing, hit and totaled our car, and fled. When I finally got to the hospital, our daughter’s pulse was shooting up to 260 and higher. She was given three doses of morphine in a row with no effect on her pain. It was determined that she would be moved to ICU. Surprisingly, the emergency room doctor then asked my wife and me, “Before we take her upstairs, would you mind if I prayed for her?” In ICU with no usual painkillers working, the staff gave our daughter drugs given to patients before surgery to render them unconscious. Later that night, my wife went home to attend our other children who were also ill with the stomach virus. In the early morning hours I sat in a chair by my daughter’s bed watching her in the glow of the monitors attached to her. Suddenly, I saw her lips moving though her eyes were still closed. I thought she was trying to talk when I realized she was singing. I could not hear what she was singing, so I stood and bent over her with my ear near her mouth. Then I heard. She was singing, “If I could just touch, the hem of His garment. If I could just touch some part of His robe. I know I’d be healed…” The next day she was released from the hospital straight from ICU. The disease never returned. My daughter is just one who has been influenced by the Lady with the Issue’s story. God knew just what to put in the Bible. I’m glad that story is in there. I’m glad it happened. Not just to her, but to many. Not just once, but many times. Not just then, but now.
of wallets and souls
Bro. Clifford Hurst 9/17/2017
This past week for his sixteenth birthday I took my younger son to a theme park. (Yes, even after over 30 years of parenting, I still have a teenager to raise.) When we entered the park, I moved my wallet to a front pocket of my jeans. Cautious of pickpockets, I often do so when in crowded public places. Also, there was the prospect of losing it from a back pocket while going 70 mph upside down on a loop of a roller coaster track. I never realized how frequently I check for my wallet until I moved it to the front pocket. Over and over after a ride or rising from a bench, instinctively, I ran my hand over my back-left pocket. Each time there was that instant panicking alarm and despair when I felt the empty pocket and thought I’d lost my wallet. (I’m sure it works this way with ladies and their purses too.) When my conscious reason caught up and reminded me I had deposited it in the front pocket, relief would wash over me. Why was I so alarmed over thinking I had lost my wallet? It wasn’t the thought of losing a lot of money or a good wallet. I probably had less than $100 cash, and the wallet is worn out and tattered. The alarm came from the fact that so much of my life is tied to what is in my wallet. Have you ever thought about how much of your life is in your wallet? In your wallet is your identity. There is your driver’s license and often your social security card. How much could you do without those cards of identification? How much could an identity thief do with them? What about all those credit cards? Your finances could be wrecked if those fell into the wrong hands. Then there are your health insurance, pharmacy, and other medical cards. Also, there are all those customer loyalty cards. What would you do without all those extra savings? There’s your library card. Perhaps, you even have an extra key to your vehicle in your wallet in case you are locked out. (“What’s in your wallet?”). Besides all you would lose and the harm that could be done by those who stole all those things in your wallet, think of the hassle and many hours it would take trying to notify credit card companies, drivers’ bureau, etc., to take care of what you lost. That’s why most of us are so careful of our wallet. We ought to be even more fastidiously careful with our souls. Once, when I again went through the routine of patting my back pocket, finding it empty, feeling panic, remembering it was, in fact, in a front pocket, experiencing relief washing over me, I heard the words, “Keep you heart with all diligence for out of it are the issues of life.” All of our life is tied to what is in our souls. Our eternity is too. Jesus said, “What shall it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul.” How careful are you with your soul? Did you just check?
what superlative will they use?
Bro. Clifford Hurst 9/10/2017
As Rush Limbaugh discovered this past week, if one makes objective observations about the realities of the hurricanes, observations that go against the story line of the near-hysterical, panic-inducing reporting, he is labeled an uncaring, unfeeling, ignorant denialist. Undoubtedly hurricanes Harvey and Irma are/were massive and horribly destructive. Loss of property and lives is never something to minimalize and belittle. However, I do want to venture an observation: Searching for the greatest possible superlative to describe cataclysmic storms, reporters today have begun using the word “biblical.” The hurricane was of “biblical” proportion.” The state suffered “biblical” flooding. The tornado was “biblical” in size and destruction. Biblical. Hhhhmmmm. This usage cannot be a Freudian slip that the reporters actually believe that the Bible’s apocalyptic prophesies of catastrophic events are actually taking place. No. It is an unwitting admission that, believe the Bible or not, the apocalyptic language of the Bible describes extreme, terrifying, unimaginably destructive events that so far are unprecedented. The problem with superlatives is that, when something more intense, more destructive, more massive occurs, there is no word left to describe it. The most superlative superlative has already been used. If a 9. earthquake is “biblical,” what will a 12. earthquake be called? The occurrence of recent, intensifying storms and natural catastrophes have called to mind the Bible history of the Flood and Bible prophesies of coming judgments. Yet, as horrible and destructive as the recent storms have been, they do not begin to compare to the size, fierceness, destruction, power, etc., of what the Bible foresees coming. In other words, comparatively, this earth hasn’t seen anything yet. Truly “biblical” storms are coming. Here’s a sampling: “…the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat…” (2Pe 3:12). “… a great mountain burning with fire was cast into the sea: and the third part of the sea became blood; And the third part of the creatures which were in the sea, and had life, died; and the third part of the ships were destroyed.” (Rev 8:8-9). “The earth shall reel to and fro like a drunkard, and shall be removed like a cottage… and it shall fall, and not rise again.” (Isa 24:20). Whether the coming catastrophes are God’s using and intensifying cosmic events or whether they are God’s creating and introducing new destructive power, they will dwarf storms like Harvey and Irma. Ironically, though the masses readily believe the hyped and inflated, and often inaccurate predictions of news reports that use the word “biblical” as a superlative, they do not believe the preaching about the very real coming events from which the word “biblical” comes. This past week for days Irma was tracked as it tore its destructive path across the Atlantic. However, very few track the approaching storms the Bible has prophesied are on their way. Hurricane Irma at the time of this writing was traveling 14 mph, thus there have been days of warning. If an asteroid were plummeting towards earth, there would be only seconds of warning. With Jesus’ coming there will be less time than that. He is coming “suddenly.” That’s one storm that will truly be biblical. I wonder: When the biblical storms hit, what superlative will reporters use?
what is your tuna casserole?
Bro. Clifford Hurst 9/3/2017 1
She was very kind. When my wife and I were young evangelists and our firstborn was only an infant, way out west we were holding services at a church without an evangelist quarters. A saintly widow of the church hospitably opened her home to our family for the week. She was so kind. When we arrived, she had supper prepared for us, and I was in trouble. It was a wonderful home-cooked meal, but the main entree was a 9" x 13" dish of tuna casserole. Now see, I have an aversion, in general, to fish and, in particular, to tuna. Just the smell of it--and I can smell even the faintest traces--causes me to want to gag. This repugnance is neither imagined or self-fabricated. It is even hereditary. When my youngest son was only a toddler, a can of tuna could have been just opened and, as soon as he caught a whiff of the smell, he would begin showing signs of nausea. So, I was in trouble. We blessed the food and thanked our hostess for the wonderful meal. When it came time to serve myself, I settled on a tactic I had learned for dishes I, as a guest, found distasteful: I dumped a rather small spoonful of the tuna casserole on my plate and then quickly smashed it with the top of the spoon and spread it to cover a large area of my plate. If one didn't notice how thin the layer, it looked like I had a lot. When the meal was over, I congratulated myself for being so clever and getting through the tuna casserole. It was over. Past. Done. Not! At suppertime the next evening I was looking forward to the meal. As we sat down at the table, I quickly became dismayed. Our hostess had rewarmed the tuna casserole and added a few fresh sides to it. I don't even know how I made it through that meal. I just know that at bedtime I said to my wife, "You know how much I hate tuna. You must eat up that tuna casserole. Listen to me: 'Eat up that casserole!'" She is a great wife. You might have guessed: The next night at supper, the casserole made its third appearance, and my faithful wife doled herself a gigantic dollop. Tuna is bad enough fresh. I could not imagine what it must have tasted like after the second, left-over warm-up. I don't remember how many appearances the tuna casserole made that week. I just know that my wife sacrificially took care of what I found so unpleasant. Often, we humans do with internal struggles what I did with the casserole. What we find unpleasant within ourselves, we project it on someone else--as if it is their problem to deal with. We put it on them. For example, a father, angry and frustrated with work, comes home and yells at his kids--for nothing they have done. He has put his tuna casserole on their plate. A church member struggling with inferiorities blames the church family for being uncaring or unfriendly and his not feeling a part. That one wants everyone else to eat his tuna. Another is boiling with bitterness in the cauldron of his heart for having been done wrong. He finds fault and lashes out at any who might be unlucky enough to approach him in an attempt of kindness. Once again, one's own internal baggage, tuna, has been dumped on someone else's plate. If you have a dislike of tuna, don't blame the host who is trying to be kind. And for sure, don't try to make it someone else's responsibility to eat it. You could just accept that the unpleasantness comes from something about you and get down to business and eat it. Or, unlike repugnance with real tuna, you could ask God to remove the aversion. By the way, what is your tuna casserole? Do you try to put it on someone else's plate?
without a tape measure
Bro. Clifford Hurst 1/31/2016
Whether you are a carpenter or not, can you imagine building anything, much less a house, without a tape measure? Mull that question while reading this Scripture: "Except the LORD build the house, they labour in vain that build it:... (Psa 127:1). Good exposition may conclude the "house" is the Temple or an actual house, but an almost inescapable application is that the house is the family. Building a house then is about relationships between humans. This truth then applies to nation as well as to home. One thing for sure, building a house requires a measure. In the times of this verse, I'm sure builders did not have a Stanley Fatmax, but they had some means of measurement, probably a stick. Let's consider some things: First, building a house with no measure at all: America has said she no longer needs a tape measure--the absolutes as revealed in God's Word. I have never built a whole house but have done cabinet building and lots of remodeling. I cannot imagine doing so without a measure. With a tape measure one can square, level, align, and measure to cut at needed dimensions. Can one even fathom a house built without a tape measure? If you are having trouble imagining such a house, take a look at America. America has jettisoned the tape measure, the Judeo-Christian, Scriptural absolutes. No wonder the house is looking like it's looking. Imagine the actual construction process without a measure: A 36" header is needed. It's time to cut the boards. One carpenter says, "Cut here. That looks like 36" to me." Another, disagrees, "No, I really feel this is 36 inches." Another says, "I don't see it as 36 inches. From where I'm standing, that's not 36 inches." Second, each carpenter brings his different tape measure, personally made and marked off with its own unique unit of measurement. There was a time that could have happened. No uniform standard of measurement had been set. Not everybody's inch, cubit, or furlong was the same. Now, for tape measures there is a set, uniform unit of measure for each. Today's postmodernism teaches folks that each can and should decide for himself what his own personal unit of measurement will be. Each makes his own tape measure. No wonder there is so much disagreement, unrest, vitriol, disunity, and destruction in America. Each has a different measure. Third, what if during the construction of the house, the tape measure kept changing every few days or so? What if the carpenters kept getting a new tape measure with new, differing lengths of its units? This is the very argument of those who would discard the Biblical definition of marriage. Times have changed so the definition has changed. The tape measure has been changed. Each of the hypothetical scenarios above would lead to a mess, worse than the clubhouse built by a bunch of ten-year olds. It would not just be an aesthetic shamble, but a structural one as well. Jesus said, when the storm hits the house not built on a foundation of rock, it will come crashing down. True. But, so will the house that was built without a measure, with different measures, and with an ever-changing measure. And great will be "the fall of it." How's building that house going without a tape measure?