Pastor's Desk

do you need to throw up?
Bro. Clifford Hurst 09/25/2022
Warning: Content is gross! What I am about to write about is admittedly really gross. It’s about throwing up. Vomiting. Regurgitating. Upchucking. Heaving. Retching. Puking. You get the idea, and writing all those synonyms has made me feel nauseated. If you take exception with my language, I appeal to Jesus. He used the same word when He noted His reaction to the Church of Laodicea’s lukewarmness. He said He would spew, vomit, them out of His mouth. Throw up. It’s not the vomiting of the stomach that I’m talking about. It’s the vomiting of the mind, of the heart. Why do we vomit? Described in layperson’s terms, a bug causes a build-up of poison in the stomach and one must get it out. In more medical terms, a virus has caused one’s gastrointestinal tract to become irritated and inflamed and any contents in it further irritate it. Vomiting is the intestinal tract’s effort to rid itself of all those irritants. Either description will serve the purpose here: Sometimes we need to vomit, to throw up. Not because our stomach is irritated, not because of a build-up of poison in our belly, but because our mind is irritated. There is a build-up in our hearts. We’ve got a bug of hurt. We’ve got a virus of worry. Something has poisoned our emotions and irritated our minds. Probably going to be a bit too transparent here, but, hey, I’m already talking about vomit. Once, I was so troubled in mind and heart with news I had received and could not process, I felt I had to talk to someone. I went to a friend and warned him. “I have to talk to someone. I am so upset I have to get it out.” I explained why I felt I had to share: “It’s like having a stomach virus. You feel a buildup of poison, and you have to get it out. This isn’t going to be pretty. Throwing up never is. But it gives relief. At least for a little while.” Then, I poured out the pain and poison of my trouble. When I finished, I said, “I’m sorry that I threw up all over you.” God knows our stomachs--and our hearts. He made both. He knows we need to empty the poison of each. He has designed the stomach to eject its poison through throwing up. He has given our hearts and minds a way to rid themselves of their poison. God informed us of this with an invitation via the admonition of a Psalmist. “Trust in him at all times; ye people, pour out your heart before him: … (Psa 62:8). “Pour out.” In the psalm, “pour out” is rooted in another analogy--the pouring out of blood from the body. Blood that ultimately comes from the heart. Pour out the emotions of your heart. Pour out what is troubling you. Pour out your life, yourself. Essentially, throw up the poison of your heart and the trouble of your mind. We have an example of this in Hannah. The only clue that she was pouring out her heart was that her lips were moving. But she was pouring out her pain of not being able to have a child, of being ridiculed and tormented by a rival wife. The observing priest, Eli, seeing her lips move and trying to find an explanation for such uncommon behavior in “church” concluded Hannah was drunk. “You need to quit hitting the bottle. You’re drunk!” he charged. Hannah responded: “Oh, no, Sir! ‘I am a woman of a sorrowful spirit: I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but have poured out my soulbefore the LORD.’” (1Sa 1:15). Again, slightly different analogy but same idea. Getting out what is troubling you. Throwing up. The invitation and admonition is to pour out our hearts to God. That, we definitely need to do. We need to pray. We need to cry out to God. We need to pour out and cast all our cares upon Him. Yet, although I don’t believe in confessors, God has made us so that we need others. Human others. Sometimes to pour out your heart to a friend, a confidant, a spouse, a pastor, is a must. It is tantamount to pouring your heart out to God. God uses such folks. Just a note of caution here: Just as you do not want to throw up in public in front of everyone, but in private, so with those personal, intimate, pains, poisons, and such. Never do you want to throw those up in public. It is a real friend and confidant that will allow you to throw up your sickened heart to him. The person to whom you do so may have nothing to say to help and may be able to do nothing to help the cause of the pain, but it will relieve you to be able to unburden your soul. If there is such a one in your life to whom you can rid yourself of the build-up of poison, be grateful for them, and go get it all out to them. Throw up. There is something to be said to such confidants. As I told my friend: “I just threw up all over you. You may not want to talk to me anymore because my sharing all of this must be toxic. It was toxic in me. It had to be difficult to listen to me.” “No,” he insisted, “I want you to share. You got to share.” I am thankful for his understanding and friendship. Nobody likes to be thrown up on no matter how close they are to you. It isn’t pleasant to be around someone throwing up. It can feel like you are getting thrown up on. It can make you feel ill yourself. However, I have visited the hospital when a patient suddenly became nauseated. A nurse would be trying to help. The patient would throw up and, in the process, get it on the nurse. The patient when finished would begin to apologize. The nurse, whatever her revulsion and displeasure over what had gotten on her would say, “It’s okay. You’re sick. I just want to help you.” So do true friends. So does God. Be thankful that you can pour out your heart to them. It will help. Are you troubled in heart and mind? Has worry and pain poisoned your thoughts? Has it all built up until you are just soul-sick? Do you need to throw up? Go throw up! Share with a trusted friend. More importantly, pour out your heart before God. --Pastor Clifford Hurst *Are you weary, are you heavyhearted? Tell it to Jesus, Tell it to Jesus; Are you grieving over joys departed? Tell it to Jesus alone. Chorus: Tell it to Jesus, tell it to Jesus, He is a friend that's well known; You've no other such a friend or brother, Tell it to Jesus alone. “Are You Weary, Are You Heavy-hearted?” Author: Jeremiah Eames Rankin
a miserable big fish in a mighty small pond
Bro. Clifford Hurst 09/11/2022
It is largely the reason for the craziness we are seeing in our society—everything from mandatory pronoun use to gender transitioning. It is the reason for most of the vitriol and anger—real or affected. It is the reason for the easily-offended-ism. It is the reason for pompous arrogance and narcissism on one hand and despair, suicidal inclinations, and deprecating inferiority on the other. It is the reason our government is imploding, our places of higher learning are deteriorating, our families are fragmenting, and, in many places, our churches are being ravaged. It is the Main Character Syndrome. Main Character Syndrome describes when one thinks, imagines, or acts as if he were the leading protagonist in life. Knowing our base nature and the drive for self-preservation, I suppose that humanity has always had its chronic sufferers of the Main Character Syndrome (MCS) and that all people have bouts of it. However, today we have an epidemic of it. The internet has facilitated its outbreak, transmission, and casualties. Folks post what they had for breakfast. And lunch. And supper. And the snacks in between. Everyday. As if these were great accomplishments. Their story is the one that matters. And in their story, they are the only one that matters. (Not that it’s wrong to share things of your life. The issue is why and how you share.) TikTok is largely nothing but the postings of those suffering Main Character Syndrome—and, at the same time, it’s also a main proliferator of MCS. Safe spaces have to be provided on college campuses so that folks can assuage and massage their Main Character Syndrome. The definition of marriage had to be mutilated so someone could pacify his urge to be the main character. We could go delineating the damage. If only people were satisfied to be the main character of just their story. Rarely are they. Not satisfied with having the leading role in their story, they attempt to insert themselves into the leading role of any and every story. Posted on the internet is a tragic loss of life in a distant state. An MCS sufferer, though he may have only once crossed paths with the deceased, in the comment section exudes on and on about how close he was to the deceased, what an impact the deceased had in the great accomplishments the commenter has made, how he has become the great person he is because of the deceased. There is a car accident that imperils the survival of some involved. A sufferer of the MCS may have only driven past and rubbernecked the scene. Yet, later, as he tells of the accident, somehow, he becomes the lead actor. He narrates with embellishments and redactions in such a way that he comes out as the hero that saved the occupants’ lives. He may have only made the 911 call--a later redundant one. Or, pulled over to let the ambulance through. But he is the hero. MCS is another reason I abhor the ubiquitous hackneyed “My story, my story, my story, my journey, my journey, my journey…” I get it. We all have a unique story, a unique journey. We would all profit if we took the time to inquire after and then listen to the unique stories of others’ lives. When a single person of the 7 billion inhabitants of the earth dies, an irretrievable modicum of history is lost forever. The aggravation isn’t that an individual has a story. It’s his obsession with his story. As if his story is all about him. He not only plays the leading roles but the supporting roles and every role. As a pastor, I have observed how the MCS is destroying individuals. At times, I am aggravated but mostly I hurt for them. They are miserable. They cannot be content in a church family. They cannot forge lasting relationships with folks. They can never live in reality. They cannot become a part of any ministry they do not lead. They must have the leading role—either as subject or object--or they are not happy. Or, they must be able to cast themselves in later telling as the main character. They see everything and everybody and every event only in terms of themselves as the main character. It is truly all about them. A fellow worshipper avoided them. The preacher intentionally targeted them. The one who brought donuts didn’t bring their favorite. The songs were not the ones they would have selected. They were not asked to sing. They must be the main character. Yes, MCS sufferers are not content just to be the main character of their own story. They must be the main character of every story. Or they won’t help write it. They must be a one-man band or they’re not playing. If it’s not their song, they are not singing. If it’s not their theme, they’re not amening. If it’s not their dance, they’re not dancing. If it wasn’t their idea, they’re not participating. If it’s not their thing, they’re not coming. Oh, they would, if they could be the main character. The great damage of MCS to an individual is that it prevents him from being a part of something larger than himself. He is the largest thing in his world. Not being a part of something larger than himself, he never finds meaning, purpose, or fulfillment. He is a big fish in a very small pond. A miserable big fish in a mighty small pond. Far better to be a small, contented fish in a large pond. Here’s the thing: For Christians and church, I thought Jesus was to be the Main Character. I thought that we were all about His Story. I thought He is who makes our story. Think of the difference it would make if each Christian, whether in personal life or the corporate life of the church, would make Jesus the Main Character. Jesus IS the Main Character of this story of the Gospel that transforms lives and gives hope, peace, love, and joy. He “plays” the life-altering, life-giving role. The question to ask is, “What would my story be like if I truly made, not me, but Jesus the Main Character of it?” I think the best thing for my and your story would be—pun intended—to let Jesus have the LEADING role. --Pastor Clifford Hurst
there’s a unicorn going down the street”
Bro. Clifford Hurst 09/04/2022
“There’s a unicorn going down the street!” a four-year-old looking out the living room window shouts to her mother cooking in the kitchen. The mother puts down the mixing spoon and joins her child at the window, “Where?” Mom asks. The child points to the street, “There!” The mother peers out and exclaims, “Oh, you do see a unicorn! How wonderful of you! What a pretty unicorn. Mommy’s going to call Daddy at work and tell him. Then, Mommy’s going to bake a cake and invite folks over to celebrate your seeing a unicorn.” Rather, many mommies today would—or so they have been told by the culture that they should. In not so distant past if the child had announced, “Mommy, a unicorn is going down the street,” Mommy probably wouldn’t even have bothered to go look. She would have hollered from the kitchen. “No, you are not seeing a unicorn. But you do have such a wonderful, creative imagination.” If the child kept insisting, a less busy mother would join her child in looking out the window. Depending on what the mother saw she would respond to the child, “There’s no unicorn walking down the street.” Or, “Nothing is walking down the street.” Or, if there were, “Oh, honey, that’s not a unicorn. That’s just a horse.” Or, “Ha! Ha! The neighbors tied a stick to their dog’s head to make it look like a unicorn.” Or, improbably, “That’s not a unicorn. That’s a rhinoceros! It must have escaped from the zoo!” But the mother would have never agreed with her child that there was a unicorn walking down the street. Why? Because there would NOT have been a unicorn walking down the street. Not on that street. Not on any street. Not in any plat. Not in any city. Not in any country. Not on any planet. Not the legendary unicorn imagined by storytellers and artists. Not the one in the child’s picture books. Not the stuffed one in her daughter’s bedroom. Those are imaginary. Unicorns don’t walk down the street. The reason the mother of days gone by could say there was no unicorn walking down the street is she, as humanity always has, believed truth is what corresponds with reality--objective truth that is. The child declares there is a unicorn walking down the street but, that does not correspond with reality. What she claims isn't real. There is no unicorn. Never has been. Pop culture today would insist, “It may not be the mother’s truth that there is a unicorn walking down the street. But it IS the child’s truth. It is true to the child.” This is a ludicrous misunderstanding of the difference between subjective truth and objective truth. The child can say, “I love horses,” and it be true. That child does love horses. The mother can say, “I hate horses,” and it be true; the mother hates horses. But that is subjective truth. That kind of truth varies depending on how the one who says it feels. That’s why the child and mother have contradictory truths. What each says is true to her and not to the other. But this kind of truth involves preference, feelings, perceptions, and experiences, not objective realities. This is subjective truth. Objective truth is that there is either a horse walking down the street or not. The little girl can love unicorns and it be true (subjective), but she cannot say a unicorn is walking down the street and it be true (objective). Folks today, rather than acknowledging reality, think they can have their own view of reality. They believe their view of reality is reality. They believe that whatever they individually think, feel, and believe is reality. They think because they say it, what they say is real, the truth. Because they say there’s a unicorn walking down the street, there IS a unicorn walking down the street. And no one can contradict them. No one should attempt to prove them wrong by observing that there is NOT a unicorn going down the street. Not only can no one express to them that he sees NO unicorn going down the street, but he must also affirm them by saying, despite there being no unicorn, “You see a unicorn going down the street. How nice!” Not only must no one NOT say there is no unicorn, not only must one affirm them despite there being no unicorn, but all must also celebrate their seeing a unicorn. “You see a unicorn? How wonderful. You are such a great child for seeing a unicorn. You are so brave to believe there’s a unicorn walking down the street.” “I see a unicorn.” Take that claim and replace “see” with “feel,” and “unicorn” with a gender. Now the little girl says to her mother, “I feel like I am a boy.” The mother cannot say, “No, you are a little girl.” She must agree with her little girl and praise her for believing she is a boy. She must call dad at work to tell him the good news. She must bake a cake and invite extended family and friends to celebrate the little girl’s believing she is a boy.” And nobody, nobody, dare declare that she is NOT a little boy. All must agree with the little girl that “a unicorn is walking down the street.” The fact is, there IS a unicorn walking down America’s street. No, unicorns do not exist. But the mentality I write of above does. Objective truth as a measure, guide, and standard has fallen in the streets and subjective truth has the whole road to itself. It is strutting. Truth has fallen in the street. No, it has not just fallen, truth has been knocked down, pummeled, kicked to, and left lying at the curb. All the while, the unicorn, the figment of the perverse imagination of our culture that has forgotten God prances with head held high down the street. Or so it seems: However, “Forever, O LORD, thy word is settled in heaven.”(Psa 119:89). --Pastor Clifford Hurst
who’s in the judge’s chair?
Bro. Clifford Hurst 08/28/2022
Last week, when it was known the court would be ruling whether or not the affidavit for the search of Trump’s house would be released, interested folks wanted to know who the judge would be. Who would be in the chair, the judge’s chair? That matters. The one who sits in the chair decides. A defense lawyer is always concerned with who is going to be in the judge’s chair in the case he argues. The decision made about his client, ultimately, will be made by the one in that seat. When folks in debate, discussion, or declaration passionately, rabidly, or zealously insist that their view, their stance, their belief on a matter is the correct one, I always want to know, “Who sat in the chair?” The judges’ chair. What standard did they use to decide? What measure? What authority? What source? Frankly, I do not believe many folks ever consider this question. But every time we conclude our beliefs, our opinions, our convictions, something, someone, was in the judge’s chair. Imagine your mind and heart as a courtroom. In that courtroom, it will be decided what you believe, what you think, what you feel, and what you consider right or wrong about a matter at hand. The question is, who or what will sit in the judge’s chair in that courtroom of your heart and mind? Who, after deliberation, will decide what you believe, think, feel, or consider as right and wrong on the matter? Or, do you believe things without any deliberation? Just thoughtless acceptance? Narcissistic arrogance would compel someone to answer, “Well, I will sit in the judge’s chair. No one has the right to decide for me but me. I will decide what I believe.” But that’s not the way it is. What you insist is YOU on the judge’s chair isn’t you, but your reasoning. Or, your emotions. Or, your experiences. Or your desires. Our your ambition. Our your _______. I don’t mean to be snarky, but really? Do you have that much faith in your own reason, emotions, experiences, and intuitions, to decide confidently on the big, consequential questions of life? Common counsel today encourages a person to follow his heart. So, people, let their hearts—which usually means their capricious emotions—flop down in the judge’s chair and decide what is right and wrong, up and down, good and evil. Take abortion. Ask an expectant woman, “Is abortion right or wrong?” That one responds, “Abortion is not only right it is good.” Now, ask, “Who sat in the judge’s chair in the courtroom of your heart and mind and decided that?” She will answer something like, “I did. I am a woman, and I alone can choose what I do with my body.” Her “self” in the judgment seat has already ruled badly. The baby in her womb is NOT her body. It has a different DNA. Not only that, it wasn’t really her “self” in the judge’s chair that made that decision, it was the twisted postmodern ideology; or, the pseudo-science drivel that says what is in her is a clump of cells; or, the sociologist’s lie and feigned compassion that says, “Since your child will suffer in life, you should terminate its life before it is born; or, her selfish ambition that says, “Your chosen career path is more important than any child’” Or, just emotion. She doesn’t feel like having a child. Or, the anxiety about the prospect of having a child under importune conditions. Or, I write this with compassion for such a woman, the invasive deception of a godless society. Take the quibbling of Christians over personal convictions, points of theology, and distinctive group peeves. We could take any of those theological issues, those beliefs that Christians feverishly fight over on. Let’s take the two I mentioned in last week’s blog merely as examples—God wants you rich. And, you have sinned against God if, as a man, you grow a beard. When you argue your point, faith is about getting wealthy or that’s not what faith is at all; or, God wants men to have beards or not have beards or doesn’t care, the question is, “Who sat in the judge’s chair in the courtroom of your heart and mind?” A charisma-oozing cajoler with a new doctrine? Man-manufactured tradition? Fear of the bosses of your fellowship or denomination? The pressure of your community? A collage of pieces of Scripture uprooted from their contexts? Simply, your feelings? Preference? Although in both societal and religious issues far better decisions would be made, far more sane beliefs would be formed, if at least Reason or Logic were in the chair. These have long ago been ejected. Even had they not, as preferable as Reason and Logic are, they alone are not adequate judges. They may make good lawyers. But they are not a good judge. The reason such ludicrous beliefs are being made, held, and promulgated in society and vitriolic divisions are happening in the Church is that whatever folks are putting in the judge’s chair is subjective. An adequate judge must be objective. Objective simply means it is true for everyone. Subjective is what is only true, or it only matters that it’s true, for the one. So, who should sit in the judge’s seat? Only one belongs there. Not me. Not my emotions. Not tradition. Not somebody else’s beliefs, convictions, or beliefs. Not the twisted philosophies of the world. Only one. God. The judge’s chair, is, well, for the Judge. That seemed simple enough, but to say God should be on the judge’s chair is a bit rhetorical. What we truly know of God, who He is, what He says, what He thinks, we know only through His revelation. That’s the Scriptures. The Bible. So, I would say, the Bible needs to be in the judge’s chair. Abortion is in reality a moral issue. The Bible should be in the judge’s chair. But, if you want to treat it as a political issue, then our nation’s constitution should be in the judge’s seat. And for all and any of our American political issues. If only, whether in an individual’s life, in society, or in church, every decision, determination, and direction was deliberated with the Word of God in the judge’s chair… If only we would let the Bible judge. I know there is yet the matter of differences in interpretation of the Bible. However, I believe that most of those differences would be absolved if those on opposite sides of an issue had the unifying desire to know what the writers, and, thus, God INTENDED to say—instead of trying to get Scriptures to say what would prove one’s particular point. But, in most cases, we are not even letting the Judge speak. Let the Judge speak, and then we can discuss what He said. Even with the differences in interpretation, the point is the Word would be in the judge’s seat. Not caprice. Not whim. Not errant reasoning. Not tradition. Not self. Not group think. Let’s have these discussions—political and religious. Let’s debate. Let’s argue if you please. But, let’s do so with the Scripture in the judge’s chair. In the courtroom of our discussion. In the courtroom of our group. In the courtroom of each our own minds and hearts. The next time we take a matter to the inner courtroom of our heart and mind, may we take a moment to ask and honestly answer, “Who’s in the judge’s chair?” --Pastor Clifford Hurst
the great reset is happening
Bro. Clifford Hurst 08/14/2022
A Great Reset is a great idea. “The Great Reset” was first a book Richard Florida wrote in response to the economic collapse of 2008. Then, “The Great Reset” was the initiative of the economic recovery plan drawn up by the World Economic Forum in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was launched in June 2020. The concept and phrase were quickly adopted and adapted to all the world's explosive problems. Racial unrest. Rioting in the streets. Climate caused catastrophes. “We need a RESET” was the refrain. Today, the Great Reset is the concept hegemonies of plutocrats, leftists, liberals are promoting to completely and fundamentally change our messed-up world into one of their liking and making. Their Great Reset would consist of replacing capitalism with socialism, religion with secularism, and nationalism with globalism. A Great Reset. The concept of a reset is derived from a fitting analogy in our world dominated by technology. We get it. Again, and again, when programs freeze, computers act funky, and other chip-driven devices stall, malfunction, and such, the best thing that can be done is to reset them. Reboot them. Whatever the device, support tech, when contacted for help with a malfunctioning device, will almost invariably begin with “Have you reset your device?” A reset can work marvels. The software gets back to doing its thing. The device starts working. The computer operates like new. So, why not just reset an economy? A government? A nation? The planet? Humanity? And, so we hear, especially, the designing leftist and liberals saying, “We need a reset!” A Great Reset. I concur we need one. I think you do too. Yes, we do need a reset. A GREAT reset. The world needs a great reset. Humanity needs a great reset. Every single person needs a great reset. Something is wrong with both our hardware and software. Things are in horrible shape. Malfunctioning Not working. Imploding. Deteriorating. A Great Reset of humanity and its world is a great idea. It’s a great idea because it is God’s idea. Secular proponents may not realize it, but they have hijacked the idea from God’s “playbook.” Only they can never carry it out. Their campaign to reset the world they may call sophisticated, hopeful, and optimistic. They may do so with confidence in humanity's quantum advances in technology, medicine, and science. I call it deluded arrogance. Does humanity really presume to think it can fix what is wrong with humanity? With our cosmos? With our star, the sun? With the universe? Degenerate society, however scientifically and technologically advanced, cannot pull it off. They cannot reset the climate (by their own admission when they are candid). They cannot eradicate crime. They cannot cure a common cold. They cannot reset humanity. The Great Reset. Humanity cannot achieve it. God can. God will. God does. There is a reset with God. God is Redeemer. Restorer. Renewer of humanity. GOD RESETS PEOPLE! “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2Co 5:17) GOD WILL RESET THE WORLD. “Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.” (2Pe 3:12-13). This Great Reset has already begun. Not just humanity but all of the universe will be reset, rebooted, and return to its original, pristine condition. Like a computer right of the manufacturer’s box. The Great Reset. Often, when promulgating, pumping, and pushing the Great Reset, advocates will show the visual of a reset button on an electronic device being depressed. The push of that button initiates the reboot. The reset. God has already pushed the reset button. Calvary was the reset button. Upon pushing the reset button on a device, some things immediately begin to happen. But, rebooting, resetting, is a process. The initial act of pushing the reset button makes everything that follows inevitable, though not everything immediate. Some things of this reset have already happened. A changed heart for us believers. Yet, our body is yet to be renewed. People in the world, believers, have been changed, reset, but our physical world has not. But with the push of the reset button, with Calvary, God began the reset that will totally redeem our universe, the world, and believing people in it. God’s reset is to the factory condition. The original condition. The perfection of the Garden. And the people in it. Only the Gospel can give the hope of the Great Reset. The Great Rest has already begun! It's happening! Pastor Clifford Hurst
“he tried to get close”
Bro. Clifford Hurst 08/07/2022
“Write about this.” “Put it in your blog!” I don’t think I have ever blogged something in response to a challenge to do so, but I am now. Here it is: I knew better. I hunted for over half my life. Also, from a child through young adulthood, I was an avid reader of Outdoor Life. You just don’t get close to a mother bear with young cubs. With my wife’s family on a recent vacation, we were staying in a condo about as far up into the Smokies above Gatlinburg as one can get. The road ended on top of the mountain not far from where we lodged. Despite quite a few visits through the years, I had never seen bears in the wild in the Smokey Mountains. That famine has ended. We saw bears constantly. Everywhere. Especially, around our condo and all through the resort of which it was a part. We even had one large bear hang out below our balcony. One day, as we were exiting the resort headed for town, someone spotted twin cubs over on the edge of the parking lot. And their mother. My brother-law who was driving stopped. Windows were rolled down, and we were all pointing or trying to get a photo. But the bears were far enough away that no one was able to get a very good one. I don’t know who, but someone temptingly said to me—because I was sitting shot-gun and could most easily do so—“Why don’t you try to get closer and get a good picture?” Bright idea. I knew better. Getting out of the car, I started walking tentatively and slowly towards the cubs. I sensed a brother-in-law had joined me a few steps behind. As I said, I knew the thing and the metaphor about the protective rage of a mother bear. But I figured, “The cubs are far enough from the her, that I can keep that pickup truck on the edge of the parking lot between me and the mother so she won’t see me.” She didn’t see me. She smelt and/or heard me. I had walked within just a few yards of the cubs and was snapping photos rapidly when I saw her coming about the same time my brother-in-law squealed a warning in so high an octave that it was almost unintelligible “She’s coming!” He broke Olympic records in his dash to the car. Later, he confessed to thinking he needed only to outrun me to the car to be safe. When he yelled, the mother came around the truck’s bumper. Her ears were flattened against her lowered head, as bears do when they charge. Growling she rushed at me with pouncing leaps. I could hear the clatter of her claws on the asphalt. I took a step backward with an involuntary “Ohhhhh.” It sounded like someone else made the sound, someone just gut-punched. Thankfully, mamma bear abruptly stopped just a mere few feet from me. The cubs had not seen us but had been trained to scurry up trees when their mother growled a warning. They were ten feet up the tree before the mother got to me. Sensing her cubs were safe, the mother turned back to them. Relieved but feeling foolish, I returned to the vehicle. Back in the SUV, we all were chattering excitedly about the experience as we wound our way down the mountain. We passed a cemetery. I think it was in response to seeing it that someone remarked, “We could be having your funeral real soon and putting you in the graveyard.” Seeing the tombstones, in a split moment of thought, I envisioned what my tombstone would look like. I saw one that looked like one of those centuries-old stones covered with moss with the epitaph in large letters with quote marks bracketing it. “Yeah,” I responded, “And on it, you could put, ‘He tried to get close.’ That would say it all.” The “He tried to get close,” would capture the stupidity of my being mauled and even losing my life simply to get a good photo of cute bear cubs. There was a courtesy laugh, but after it died away, I kept seeing the tombstone with my name and “He tried to get close” in my mind’s eye. It suddenly struck me. That might not be the worse of epitaphs. It could be a great epitaph to summarize one’s life. Not “close” to a mother bear, but to God. If we think of walking with God, serving Jesus, and worshiping the King, if we think of one devoted throughout his life to pursuing God and the things of God, “He tried to get close,” need not be a condemnatory epithet but a commendatory epitaph. If only, “He tried to get close,” could be the accurate and fitting inscription below my name on my tombstone. (To my wife and children: “If you read this, I’m not hinting.”) Could it be put on your tombstone? Could it be said of your life? “She tried to get close.” “He tried to get close.” That would say it all. --Pastor Clifford Hurst
what’s your tuna casserole?
Bro. Clifford Hurst 07/31/2022
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 quarter. 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 dish 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 nor self-fabricated. It is even hereditary. When my younger 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 was, 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 to someone else to deal with—as if it is their problem. 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. Today at church, if you should find yourself not liking the music, annoyed by others, bored with the preaching, or angry with a brother or sister, consider that there may be nothing wrong with the music, preaching, or people. Perhaps, it's just something with you. Same with your family. You are unhappy with your spouse, your children, your parents, or your siblings. Maybe the problem's not with them. Maybe it's with you. God too. This thing you find wrong with God, or His ways, we know it can't be anything wrong with God or His ways. It has to be something with you. If you dislike 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? --Pastor Clifford Hurst
struggling with struggling
Bro. Clifford Hurst 07/24/2022
Oxymoronically, it is those who spiritually care and try the most that have the greatest inner struggles. Some of the most moral, spiritual, godly people I know wrestle far more in conflicts of mind and soul than do their apathetic or indifferent or carnal or worldly church-pew neighbors. It is the spiritual go-getters that seem to be consistently in all-out combat inside. Ironically, the reason is that they care, they try, they aspire—they desire the things of God and want to please Him with their lives. Often, I have mused even within a church service, as I preached a message to challenge or convict, that those who should be moved by the message seem to sit serenely through it undisturbed, while ones who don’t even need the message--because of their heart and enthusiasm for God--are all torn up and convicted by it. I have concluded that the reason those who so conscientiously care are moved and torn up over such a message don’t really need such a message is that they so conscientiously care and are moved by such a message. They care enough to care—thus, they battle. On the other hand, those who need the message but are unmoved don’t care enough to be moved—thus, they don’t battle. They feel no conviction. It is this latter observation that has caused me to commit, “Some folks don’t have the peace of God. They are just too lazy to care.” Two men stand before an opened box of donuts on the counter in the breakroom. One struggles with taking just one or none at all. The other without hesitation reaches in and takes out four or five. The one that struggled was the one who cared about his weight and/or health and was trying to monitor what he ate. The one who had no struggle taking and eating multiple donuts just didn’t care and wasn’t trying to lose weight or prevent causes of bad health. Two roommates at college have the same classes, assignments, and workload. One frets, feels stress, battles over doing any other thing except studying. The other is carefree, laughs, goofs off, and answers any invitation to go have fun or party. The first cares deeply about her grade point average, wants to do the best she can, and get all her assignments in on time. The second simply doesn’t care about her grades. She doesn’t even care if she gets kicked out of college. Two neighbors have adjacent lawns. One worries that the persistent daily rains are going to prevent him from mowing. He frets over the appearance of weeds. He cannot rest because the latest storm brought down a tree limb that needs cut up and the brush hauled away. He is bothered by the fact his weed-eater is in the shop being repaired and the edges of the lawn are looking scruffy. His neighbor is faced with all these same conditions down to his weed-eater being broken. Yet, he hasn’t even bothered to take his weed-eater to the shop. He is unbothered by the ankle-high grass, the limb that also extends into his yard, the growing weeds, or the ungroomed edges of his lawn. Temperament, I realize, plays a role. The choleric fumes that something is keeping him from getting things done; the melancholy philosophies about why life seems to conspire against his efforts to have a groomed lawn; the phlegmatic is just happy the rains gave him a chance to just sit in his recliner and not mow; The sanguine calls someone up to talk and forgets all about the weeds growing. In the end, the struggle catches up to everyone. Later in life, the dozen-donuts-a-day coworker struggles with the health issues of the obese, the partying college student struggles to find a job and make ends meet because she has no education or skill, and the neighbor with the jungle of a yard struggles with a fine from the city and a tar-and-feather-ready mob of angry neighbors. It is far better to struggle in the effort to get it right, be right, do it right, than to struggle with the consequences of not doing so. Spiritually, much can be said to assure those whose hearts are right with God but who continue to struggle with things. There is no space for that. Suffice it to be said that those inward struggles are not all bad. Without them the healthy man might have been unhealthy, the student may have never graduated, and the man who would not mow may have lost his friends and family over his slovenly ways. So, if you are struggling with your struggling, realize the fact you struggle is the reason you don’t have to. --Pastor Clifford Hurst
the woman’s choice
Bro. Clifford Hurst 07/10/2022
“It’s my choice; it’s my choice; it’s my choice,” the abortion advocate was screaming with rabid anger and maniacal voice. “I chose to have an abortion. I’m glad I chose to have an abortion. I would choose to abort all over again. No one’s going to tell me what to do with my body. It’s my choice.” Since the reversal of Roe vs Wade, all of us have heard some rendition of this rage-laden mantra. Deafened by deception, this woman could not possibly hear what she was saying: “I chose to kill my baby. I’m glad I chose to kill my baby. I would choose to kill my baby all over again. No one’s going to tell me I can’t kill my baby. It’s my choice.” This angry advocate “for a woman’s choice,” is correct, however ostensibly. The abortion issue is about a woman’s choice. It truly is. (And, I’m not referring to her choice whether to have relations that resulted in pregnancy. Or, her choice to kill her baby.). She is correct. It’s all about a woman’s choice. That’s what it’s all been about from the very beginning. The very first woman, Eve, was the first to see it’s all about choice. Whether it be Eve or the febrile female above boasting of her abortion, both women were wanting to choose for themselves. But not as you might think. The choice that Eve wanted to make wasn’t to eat from the forbidden tree. The choice the Pro-choice Protestor was clamoring about is not the choice to do what she wants with her body—however loudly she screams that. This about choice goes deeper than that. What these two women have in common, is that they each wanted to choose for themselves what is right and what is wrong independently of any outside measure or standard. The part of the mantra, “It’s my body,” is code for “It’s my morality.” In other words, “I get to choose what IS right and wrong for me. I set the standard.” That’s what was going on in the Garden. We see this when we listen to the dialogue between the Serpent and Eve as he tempted her. First, a little background: God gave Adam and Eve a lush utopia in which to live. He gave them a free run of all the produce of the vegetation as food for their sustenance and enjoyment. Thousands of trees. They could choose to eat from any of them. Except one. God said, “You must not choose to eat of that tree. You can choose. The choice is yours. Just choose not to.” God named this prohibited tree “The Tree of The Knowledge of Good and Evil.” Adam and Eve must not eat of that tree. They must not choose that tree. Now for the temptation: Among other deceitful and deceptive things Satan said to the Woman, he lied, “God is trying to keep you from becoming one (a god) who can choose what is right and wrong for herself. God’s trying to take choice from you.” Well, not in those exact words. Here’s what he said: “For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.” (Gen 3:5). First, Satan disparages God’s motives in forbidding Eve the tree. He says in effect, “God’s trying to keep something good from you.” What? What was Satan implying God was trying to keep from Eve? Her choice. He was saying, “God’s trying to take choice from you.” This lie has not changed since the Garden. It is still Satan’s lie to women. Someone’s trying to take your choice from you. Here is what was and is going on: God being God, had been the One who decided and told Adam and Eve what was right and wrong. “You can eat of this tree but not that one.” Satan told the woman, “God knows if you eat of the tree, you will become like God. You will not need Him to decide and tell you what is right and wrong. You will be able to determine and to decide that for yourself.” In other words, the decider of what is right and what is wrong will not be Someone or something outside of you, but you. You will be the decider of what is right or wrong. God will not choose for you what is right and wrong. You will choose what is right and wrong for yourself. It will be your choice. Satan was the very first women’s choice advocate. Eve got that this was what Satan was saying. That is why scripture records that Eve didn’t just see that the fruit of the tree look appealing and promised to be delicious to the taste, she also saw what Satan wanted her to see--that partaking of the tree would make her “wise.” Wise not in the good sense. But wise in the sense of obtaining and possessing what the name of the tree implied, “the knowledge of good and evil.” Now, we must think: Why would God, as Satan implied, want to deprive Eve of access to wisdom? Why would He want to keep “the knowledge of good and evil from Eve”? Of course, neither suggestion is true! God wouldn’t keep wisdom or the knowledge of good and evil from Eve (or Adam or anyone). This wasn’t about wisdom or the knowledge of good and evil in and of themselves. This was about who DECIDES what is “wise.” Who DECIDES what is “good and evil?” Who chooses what is right and what is wrong? Eve wanted to choose that for herself. She didn’t want God to make that choice. The Temptation then and now is this: Do we let God choose what is right and wrong or do we choose for ourselves what is right and wrong? Put another way: Will we have a transcendent standard of morality or will we each try to establish our own morality? Will we recognize and seek to follow an absolute and objective morality or will we try to live by a subjective morality. Reality is, if one chooses a subjective morality, in the end, he has no morality at all. He has only the following of his impulses and inclinations. This is exactly where we are today and why we are imploding as a people and as a nation. People do not want the locus of morality to be transcendent, something or someone outside of them. Not God. Not Bible. Not constitution. Not Supreme Court. Not reason. They want the locus of morality to be within each of them. For each to have his/her own morality. This can never work. God has given us the ability to choose. What a wonderful gift. He didn’t give us the choice of what IS right or wrong, but whether we will DO right or wrong. That’s the choice He gave at the beginning: Here’s this tree. Don’t eat it, live. Eat it, die. Choose life. That has always been the choice God has given. As the design of that tree, so the design of the world. When we choose God’s way, we choose life. When we choose our own way, we choose death. Yes, this is about Women’s Choice. And, women’s choice is the same as men’s choice. Not what we think is right or wrong. But whether we will do what God has said is right and not do what He said is wrong. Dear protestor, you do have a choice. Not whether or not killing a baby is right, but whether you will do the right of keeping your child or the wrong of taking its life. It’s your choice. Choose life. --Pastor Clifford Hurst
go to the birds
Bro. Clifford Hurst 06/26/2022
You will tell me it's my imagination, and it very well may be. But it sure seems like it's happening: I have a bird feeder hanging outside our patio doors. Birds quickly empty it. Almost daily I walk to the storage building at the back of my yard to get the seed to refill the feeder. On a day like today, the sound of the birds is almost constant in the background. When I walk out onto the lawn, my presence startles the birds which fly a short distance away. After their initial warning squawks and shrills, they seem to recognize who am—a friend, not a foe, a feeder not a predator--and grow almost silent. I am certain they know what I’m doing. They seem to be watching from nearby trees, bushes, and fences, anticipating that I am on the way to get more food for them. In my shed, I fill a pitcher, and, then, head to the feeder back by the house at the patio. Now, again, I know you will say it is my imagination, but, when I step out of the shed with the pitcher full of seed and begin walking towards the feeder, the birds everywhere within seeing-me distance begin to chime into a chorus that grows louder and louder as I near the feeder. The crescendo-ing symphony of finches, sparrows, cowbirds, grackles, starlings, wrens, and jays—some with sweet songs and some with disharmonious voices—seems ecstatic that more food is on the way. The feeder had become empty. But the House-dweller has come to fill it. I even sense, I think, the sound of gratitude in their birdsong choir of chirps, trills, squawks, whistles, and cheeps. Even the woodpeckers seem to add percussion with faster and louder drumming than usual. For sure, I’m no god, but my birds are worshipers. They recognize my presence. They know what my presence means. They respond by pouring out in voice their joy, gratitude, and anticipation at what I have and am doing. They greet me with a mellifluous anthem. I feel honored. I feel needed. I feel feted. I feel appreciated. (For the record, I’m making a point, not losing my sanity, becoming egomaniacal.) One day, between shed and feeder, hearing the increasing sound of the birds, I thought, "This is what worship in the house of God should be": The birds need no priming, pumping, or cheerleading. My presence is all it takes. God’s presence should be all it takes. Sensing God’s presence may at first affect us as mine did the birds. With a stilling silence. A fear. Not the fear of danger the birds momentarily have, but the fear of reverence, of awe. But, as their silence quickly turns to a vocal outburst from inner exultation at my presence, we ought to begin to break forth in an outpouring of praise, adoration, magnifying, and worship at His presence. As my presence means feeding to the birds, God’s presence means to us the feeding of our souls. That He is who He is and that He is among us is cause and reason enough for an anthem of adoration, yet, we know that He has mercifully come among us because we need Him. He has come to fill the feeder, to set the table. He has come to minister to our deepest needs. He has His pitcher full. He brings the feed to where we can receive it, and partake of it. He puts it before us, for our taking. Jesus, already, has given us an invitation. “Come unto me all ye that are weary and heavy-laden.” “Come and dine!” Worshipers often wait for a leader to invite them to come, to partake, receive, and worship. But with the birds, I need not say a thing. Once I have filled the feeder, the birds, with delighted din descend eagerly upon it. As they feed, it seems they often stop for some final few bars of praise and worship for their feeder--me. This morning. Worship like birds. Join the chorus. Whether sparrow or finch, wren or starling, join the music. Whether tiny Chipping Sparrow or large Pileated Woodpecker (child or adult), join the praise. He has come. He is here. The Feeder of our Souls. If the sage in Scripture can say, “Go to the ant, thou sluggard,” surely it would be okay for me to say, “Go to the birds, you worshiper.” -Pastor Clifford Hurst
it is what it is vs he is who he is
Bro. Clifford Hurst 06/19/2022
“It is what it is.” Several times I’ve blogged ranting on this expression. I will not reiterate all the reasons I dislike this popular phrase—because it is what it is. Today, I just add one more diatribe. Here goes: “It Is What It Is” has become the god of a people who have embraced naturalism—the belief that matter is all there is. See, my beef is not just that this expression is nauseatingly popular in common parlance. It’s that it is revelatory of the effects of a culture being taught evolution. If evolution is true, all there is simply IS. It is what it is. It is predetermined. It is a result of natural causes. We have this god, “It Is What It Is,’ because humanity tried to rid itself of the accountability the existence of a personal God required. Our world embraced the pseudo-scientific theory of life arising from evolution (which scientifically is not a part of the evolutionary theory). Naturalism got rid of Creator God, but was left with nothing but the god “It is what it is.” I’m not the first to note that the Judeo-Christian God’s name, Yahweh, is “I Am That I Am” but the god of our society is “It Is What It Is.” Bottom line, our society, once permeated with the belief in the Judeo-Christian God, has traded the “I Am That I Am” for “It Is What It Is.” No wonder our society has cut loose from any basis of morality. No wonder there is no aspiration for goodness, greatness, destiny. No wonder there is such nihilistic despair. When “It Is What It Is” is society’s god, its refrain is “Let us eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die. Nihilism has led to hedonism. And hedonism to further nihilism. The problem with all gods other than the true God, Yahweh, is that they are too small for our needs and problems. Faced with real-life conundrums, crises, tragedies, losses, today’s, society can only respond with “It Is What It Is.” Those who know the true God can say in the face of the worst of life’s catastrophes, news, cataclysms, and calamities, God is “I Am that I Am.” God’s name, I Am That I Am, was first revealed to Moses with the instructions to convey it to the people of Israel when they were in the worse of conditions—abject slavery—and were facing, though soon to be delivered, a hostile environment and enemies in their traverse across a desert while headed to their Promise Land. God said, “Tell them “I Am” has sent you. In other words, not only God is the Eternally Existent One, “He is the God that will be there for you. He is that God that will be whatever you need him to be when you face whatever you face.” As the children of Israel, we are facing, both as a nation, a people, and in many cases as individuals, an unprecedented crisis. Multitudes with a nihilistic shrug and a despaired slump of shoulders will resignedly speak the name of their god, “It Is What It Is.” We, who know the name of Yahweh, can respond differently. We can say, “Our God is not ‘It Is What It Is.’ Our God is ‘I Am That I Am.’” In other words, we, faced with overwhelming, disconcerting difficulty, don’t say, “It Is What It Is,” but with hope and faith, “He is Who He is.” He is exactly what we need for this. --Pastor Clifford Hurst
your driver-assist/crash avoidance system
Bro. Clifford Hurst 06/12/2022
“I don’t like it!” was my wife’s first and most emphatic response to her new vehicle’s driver-assist/crash avoidance system. She was driving down the highway, and, as she drifted a bit close to one of the lanes’ lines, the steering wheel automatically veered sharply away. “It’s jerky!” she explained. The driver-assist/crash avoidance system does other annoying things too. It sounds beeping alarms if the driver begins to change lanes while another vehicle is in the driver’s blind spot. It also automatically slows when drawing near a vehicle ahead. It makes adjustments and sounds alarms and beeps. All are warnings to the driver. All are bothersome. But I am certain that these systems are going to save many lives, however annoying, at least at first, one might find them. Graciously, Creator God has included a driver-assist/crash avoidance into His design of each human. He has truly given each of us such a system to save us from wreck and ruin. Yet, people dislike, disdain, deny, reinterpret its signals, and blame nefarious origins and causes for it. Frankly, they “don’t like it.” Case in point: People with gender dysphoria who are seeking to transition or have transitioned suffer immense anxiety, depression, and extreme psychological trauma. The blame for this trauma has been attributed to discriminatory experiences these folks have had out in society—at school, work, social events, etc. COVID debunked that claim. During COVID lockdowns. when these were isolated from societal involvement and were totally out of social contexts where discriminatory experiences were possible, their psychological trauma should have significantly decreased. Instead, it increased. Why? Secular experts who have already written the narrative would never concede it, but these dysphoric folks’ treatment by society is not the real cause of the depression, disillusionment, dissatisfaction, etc., which they experience. Much could be said about how the fallenness of humanity is responsible for dysphoria, depression, and the rest, but there is also something else at work here. God has built into His image-bearers, each human, a driver-assist/crash avoidance system. God gave humans a conscience. Although the conscience alone is not always unerringly reliable—it can be hardened, misguided, seared, silenced, and skewed--it was designed to let humanity know what was right and wrong—in the sight of God and for their own sake. Whether codified in law or not, God has given folks this innate moral sense. He has even built into nature an observable order so one can tell what is “normal” and what is an aberration. So often when folks complain of depression, discrimination, and anxiety, in reality, they are experiencing the alarms, nudges, warnings of conscience, innate moral sense, and the effects of traversing the boundaries of the natural order. This uncomfortableness they want to blame on others and on being ill-treated by others. Although some are unjustifiably ill-treated, that is not the real source or origin of their unhappiness and anxiety. What they are experiencing is God’s created and installed driver-assist/crash avoidance system. This is true, not just for gender dysphoric folks. It is true of all folks. The inner uproar, the pain, is often the crash avoidance system sounding alarmed. (Of course, I am not suggesting that in every case all anxiety, depression, etc., is attributable to going against one’s conscience or the natural order of things.) In a vehicle with such a system, the more the driver does not take note of or ignores the alarms, the more he continues to maneuver in the directions and manner that triggered the system to sound the alarms, then the more insistent and persistent the system becomes. When one goes against the warnings of his innate system, the discomfort, the pain, the anxiety, etc., will only increase. To try to mitigate the unpleasantness of the alarms, disarm them, or harangue them does not relieve the person of the danger he is in. It only increases it. Ignoring God’s alarm system also only ensures the ultimate crossing of moral lines and the crashing and destruction of the person. Today, it is thought altruistic and compassionate to attribute folk’s misery of conscience, struggle with identity, and painful inner implosion to systemic bigotry, being targeted by conservatives, or discrimination from antiquated religious groups. Countenancing the dysphoria by legitimizing it and placing the blame for the resultant agony, confusion, and inner struggle on “hate” groups, do these no favors. It’s not being compassionate at all. It is becoming complicit in their misery and ultimate destruction. Those who suffer this pain need genuine compassion, healing, and the redemption of Creator-Redeemer God. They need Jesus and the wholeness He only can provide. Their misery is their crash avoidance system letting them know so. When my wife proclaimed she didn’t “like it,” I told her, “Well, there’s a button to turn it off. Just push it.” Some do everything possible to deflect, mitigate, and rid themselves of the pain of their inner crash avoidance system. Rather, they should listen to it and thank God He is trying to save them from wreck and ruin in life and eternity. He can save! He does rescue! He will not only warn, but He will also divert from destruction. Furthermore, He will make whole, complete, and fill with joy, peace, and a knowledge of true acceptance. We may not like our driver-assist/crash avoidance system or its constant clamoring. But we certainly need it. Do you hear the cacophony of its protests to your choices, activities, your living? Don’t harangue it with vituperation. Don’t let others tell you not to listen to it and that it's someone else’s fault you’re hearing it. Don’t turn it off. It’s trying to save your life, your soul. --Pastor Clifford Hurst
tomb or womb; there are no unknowns to god
Bro. Clifford Hurst 05/29/2022
Memorial Day, officially, is for honoring all military members who have died while serving in U.S. forces. However, many have unofficially extended the honoring of the dead to their deceased loved ones whether or not they have served and died in the military. None would begrudge their doing so. As I began contemplating this Memorial Day, my mind kept going to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. As I thought of the nameless soldier(s), lying reposed in the darkness of the tomb, as odd as it may seem, I thought of all the nameless children since Roe vs Wade that have been aborted in the darkness of the womb. A tomb is to be the place of honor and preservation of alife once lived; the womb is to be the place of honor and preservation of a life to be lived. At least in this blog, I would like to extend Memorial Day thoughts for the deceased to include the millions of babies whose lives have beenunconscionably aborted. It is right that we should honor the slain unknown in the tombs. It is as fitting that we should remember the unknown slain in the wombs. Sixty-three and a half million were never given a chance to breathe. The loss of every military life is tragic. But compare: Loss of military lives in all U.S.A. wars: 1.3 million. Loss of lives from abortion: 63.5 million. The tomb of the unknown soldier is labeled “unknown” because the soldier is unidentified; his name is not known. Rather, THEIR names. The tomb enshrines more than one soldier. Originally, there were four--one for each major war/conflict of the last century. More recently, one soldier has been identified and returned to his home. Like these soldiers, the millions of aborted are unknown. They have no names. Wait, maybe they do. Have names. Maybe they are not unknown. To God, there are no tombs of unknown soldiers. We may not know their names. But God does. When those soldiers were born, they were given a name by loving parents. Though lost to humanity, God knows those names. No aborted baby had a loving parent to name him or her. So how could God possibly know their names? Could it be that, although the parents of the aborted were culpable in not letting their child live and, thus, also remiss in naming the baby, God Himself named the child? God is certainly capable of naming those millions of aborted children. God knows the name of the 100 billion stars in our galaxy and the 200 billion trillion stars in our universe. That makes it easy to believe that He knows the names of the 7 billion people who presently inhabit the earth. And those of any who have ever lived and died. God knows the names of the billions of trillions of stars that humans have not seen nor named. He knows their names because He named them. We also know that before we even began to form in our mother’s womb, God identified us. He knew our names. Again, even though I’m venturing way beyond the boundaries of established theology, I ask, "Is it implausible that, if God has named every star, formed and known every child in the womb, He has also named every aborted child though no human did? The reason we honor the unknown soldier is that we honor life. It is also because we honor life that we should remember the unknown aborted. Unknown to us. Not to God. With God, there are no unknown soldiers in tombs. Neither are there any unknown in the wombs. There is something even worse than being among the unknown dead—to be among the unknown living. Forgotten. Lonely. Abandoned. So many today feel alienated. Apart. Unknown. These have names. People just don’t know or use them. To speak to them. Call them. Engage them in meaningful conversation. They should know they are not forgotten by God. They are not unknown to Him. He knows their names. The soldier in the unknown tomb, the unborn baby, the forgotten elderly person, the lonely, the alienated can say sing together, “And He knows my name, Every step that I take, Every move that I make, Every tear that I cry, He knows my name, When I'm overwhelmed by the pain, And can't see the light of day, I know I'll be just fine, 'Cause He knows my name.” There are no unknowns with God. There are no unknown people to God. Womb, tomb, or anywhere between. No! No unknowns to God. He knows each one's name. --Pastor Clifford Hurst
the mom who packed the lunch
Bro. Clifford Hurst 05/08/2022
A Tribute To Mothers You may have, but there is someone I’ve never heard given any credit. Not once. But this one played a huge role in a miracle so stupendously marvelous that all four Gospel writers recorded it--The Feeding of the Five Thousand. Five thousand were fed with five loaves and two small fishes. Rightfully so, credit is first and foremost given to the Miracle Worker, Jesus, in whose hands the loaves and fish multiplied to provide each meal. Though they were only following instructions, credit is also given to the disciples who organized the people, navigated the logistics of orderly seating them, and then distributed the fish and chips. Careful readers also give some nod to Andrew, the disciple that noticed the boy with the lunch and pointed him out to Jesus. Praise is even given to the boy who willingly surrendered his lunch. But there’s someone who goes unnoticed in the story—the little boy’s mother who packed his lunch. Today, I want to pay tribute to mothers, but, in particular, to mothers with small children who expend such great effort in the arduous work, care, and attention in readying their children for church, especially on Sunday mornings. That is why we have this story of feeding the five thousand with five loaves and two fish. That day long ago, a Galilean mother readied her small boy and packed his lunch for “church.” Over the years of pastoring many families who were raising children and being a father to four, I have had growing admiration for mothers with small children. They put in an unbelievable amount of work readying their children for church—even if they are fortunate to have a husband that helps. Let’s just consider preparing their children for church on a Sunday morning. That work starts before Sunday. There’s the making sure the clothes are washed, ironed if needed, and laid out the night before. There’s making sure the children are in bed on time Saturday night. First, baths must be given. Often, Mom is up many times during the night with a frightened, ill, or sleepwalking child. Troubled nights are always more frequently fall on Saturday nights. Then, there’s getting the children up early on Sunday morning. Infants and toddlers must have their diapers/pull-ups changed. There’s the preparing them breakfast--and getting them to eat it. With breakfast comes fights over the cereal box, milk spills, and always one refusing to eat. Then there's the clean-up of kids and kitchen. The children old enough to do so on their own are instructed to “go get dressed.” Often, they get distracted by toys, devices, and other things. “How many times do I have to tell you, ‘Go get ready for church?’” All that telling takes time and effort. Often, Mom has to referee or break up sibling fights. And help locate missing clothing items like shoes. There’s always a shoe missing. Infants and toddlers often need another bath and for certain another diaper change. Those that are small need to be dressed. That is no small accomplishment. It’s a feat that often has to be repeated. Despite clear instructions “not to get dirty,” children get into food, sneak out to the mud, go fishing in the commode, etc. Once the children are all dressed, Mom has to get prepared herself. Her absence to do so only allows the children to get into fights, make messes, etc., all of which results in more last-minute work. And, then, there are last-minute necessary tasks like restocking and packing a bag with toys, ointments, diapers, goldfish, and a million other things. In winter there are coats to find and wrestle children into. Although upon leaving the house for church, Mom’s work has just begun—starting with all those straps and buttons of car seats—I will stop the description there. Just know two things, I have missed so many things a mom with children does in preparing them for church and that, once at church, there is so much more to be done. So, I have great respect and admiration for Christian mothers with small children who make sure their children are always in church. And every Christian mother at one time went through all this with her children. Kudos seems too prosaic, so let me say, these mothers deserved a multitude of grateful accolades. God bless them! We honor them today! Each of these Christian mothers is like the mom long ago who packed those five loaves and two fish for her little boy to take to “church”—the mom behind that great miracle, the Feeding of the Five Thousand men, plus, scripture notes, women and children. Had there been no women there, probably, there’d been no children there. At least not small ones. And, if there had been no children there, the little boy would not have been there. And if the boy had not been there, the lunch this mother packed, would not have been there. And if the mom-packed lunch had not been there, there’d been no five loaves and two fish. And if the five loaves and two fish had not been there, the five thousand would not have been fed. Well, they would. Jesus would have employed another means to feed them. He just wouldn’t have done it with five loaves and two small fishes. But the point is, the mother readied the boy and packed his lunch. All fed that day, having finished eating, after thanking Jesus, should have said, “Thank you!” to the mom who packed the lunch. --Pastor Clifford Hurst
not calories but communion
Bro. Clifford Hurst 05/01/2022
Recently, I was asked an intriguing two-part question: Will we eat in heaven? And, if so, why? Well, it appears we will eat in heaven--if there is any literalness at all to “the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.” More substantively, there is historical evidence that we will eat: In His post-resurrection appearances, in His glorified state, Jesus ate--fish and bread. Scripture says that whether raptured or resurrected, the bodies we will possess in heaven will be those made “like into His glorious resurrected body.” He ate. We will eat. Did I just hear sighs of relief? Joy? Yes, we will eat in heaven. Why? Well, because we like to eat, and heaven wouldn't be heaven if we couldn’t. Heaven will offer the very best of the world's cuisine: Think of the cinnamon rolls, the pecan pies, tubs of ice cream, the foot-high cakes, the bowls of candy. Of course, since it is heaven, it must be all desserts. Excluding those desserts that were so good here on earth that we called them "sinful." They won’t make the cut. They can't be allowed into heaven for obvious reasons. I know you haven't been taking me seriously those last few lines. Everything since the "Why?" has been droll levity. I really couldn't tell you what the food will be in heaven. It would, I think, have to be vegan. Heaven is all about life. I can't see slaughtering in heaven animals for food. That’s death. But that also begs the question: If heaven is vegan, would it be heaven? Yuck. There’s another problem if it were. I can’t really see in heaven rainstorms to water fields of grain, though, I suppose, they could be irrigated with water from the River of Life or the Crystal Sea. Oh, there I go again. There will be food. We know that angels know how to bake Manna. And, there’s that fruit from the Tree of Life. Seriously, the answer does have to do with the joy of eating. And the greatest joy of eating is not in the food on the table. The greatest joy of eating is the fellowship with those who are seated at the table. The food facilitates the fellowship. That’s why, in the best of restaurants, we do not like to see folks eating alone. We do not like to eat alone. So, yes, we will eat in heaven because we will have fellowship there as we did on earth. Yet, in a fullness we never experienced on earth. Fellowship with one another. Fellowship with our Lord. That is one of the things that Communion teaches. Jesus wanted to eat with His disciples one last time. He strongly desired to have that last Passover meal with His disciples. I can promise you; it wasn’t about the food. Well, it wasn’t about the food, but yet it was. About what the bread and wine, pointed to. His sacrificial death for His disciples. For all. But for Jesus, it was about the fellowship He had with His disciples. That time at the table, that time of fellowship was short-lived. Jesus and His disciples had to leave that table. Jesus had a mission. To die for their sins. Our sins. To die, so, that His disciples could once again gather at the table with Him. In eternity. In heaven. This time, they’d gather at the table never to leave. The fellowship would be perpetual. Forever Fellowship. It will be likewise with us. Every time we partake of Communion together in our worship service, we not only reenact the Last Supper, but we also anticipate that Eternal Supper. In both, we eat because, “…if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, ….” (1Jn 1:7). So, will we eat in heaven? Definitely. Why will we eat? Not for the nourishment of the body. Not to fulfill the cravings of our sweet tooth (Though I’m sure everything will taste heavenly). We will eat for the fellowship. As I typed that last sentence the chorus of an old song I haven’t thought of or heard in years began to loop in my mind, “Friendship with Jesus, Fellowship divine, Oh, what blessed sweet communion, Jesus is a Friend of mine!” And if we have friendship with Jesus, we will have it with one another! Eating in Heaven? Yes!!! But, it’s not about the calories. It’s about communion. With Jesus. With the saints with whom we now share the table. With all our loved ones and venerable saints who await us at the table there. This is a good thing to remember when you partake of Communion at the gathering of God’s people. --Pastor Hurst
i carried the king:
Bro. Clifford Hurst 04/10/2022
I am the donkey. You know, the one that carried Him that day. That day of shouting. That day of praise. That day when He, the King, entered the Holy City. You, I believe, call it the Triumphant Entry. You may find it surprising that I’m writing. But, let me remind you of one of my distant ancestors who could talk! Remember? The one who rebuked Balaam. She really could be such a nag. (lol. I couldn’t resist.) Anyway, I got her gene for speech. See, I’m not actually writing, per se, I’m talking. I mean, after all, I have hooves. Those aren’t too efficient on keyboards. Thankfully, there’s that new voice dictation technology. Forgive me; I’ve digressed. Back to the day I carried the King. I was not a likely choice to carry a king. I was not a nice donkey. I was rebellious. I allowed no one on my back. Not even my owner. Oh, some had tried. None were successful. Their derrieres barely made contact with my spine before I, with a mighty buck, hurled them through the air. They never tried again. I wasn’t just being mean—well, maybe; it’s that I had such a constant restlessness, anger at those humans, turmoil over the hardships of life, I felt compelled to kick and buck and bite. Two of His friends led me to Him. Thinking back on it, I could have easily taken the wrong road. I had been tied right at the intersection in the village. I could have been led in any direction. Yet, providentially, I walked the road that led to Him. Oh, I was being myself, struggling at the rope reins, trying to spit out the bit, shaking my head from side to side, digging in my heels. But strangely, the closer they pulled me towards Him-who-would-be-the-first-to-ride-me, all the uproar, all the wild instincts, all the restlessness began draining from me. By the time I got to Him, I was placidly plodding at His friends’ gentle directing tugs. For the first time in my existence, felt tamed. I felt peaceful. Though unbroken and unridden, I felt no urge to lurch or to shirk away from Him. Not from Him. In fact, though I couldn’t explain it, I WANTED Him to ride me! But, alas, I had no saddle for Him. His friends took care of that. They took off their outer tunics and arranged them on me, forming a quite nice, comfortable saddle. Then, they lifted Him, the King, and sat Him on my back. I trembled. Not with fear. Not with anger. Not with wildness, but with joy. My donkey mind understood at that moment that I had been born to carry Him. Born to carry the King! What a noisy, raucous mass surrounded us. Crowds were coming out of the nearby villages and gathering and milling around me—uh, Him. Another crowd was hastily ascending the road from the City below, shrieking as they came. Previously, that would have made me very nervous. But, despite the noise, the movement, the smell of perspiring humans, I felt nothing but calm. With Him on my back, I began to descend down that hillside. With all those shouting praise at Him, all that crowding around Him, all that fuss made over Him, I felt proud. I was the one carrying Him. Out of all the donkeys in Judea He could have chosen, He chose me! I felt not only elevated but exhilarated beyond brays. Though bridled, I felt unbridled joy. Like a spring morning being on a high mountain plateau covered with fresh clover. Only exponentially more. People were not only stripping off their coats, some were climbing trees and cutting off fronds. I wondered why until I felt coats and fronds cushioning my hooves. The people were paving the road before me. At first, I thought, “How thoughtful! They don’t want me hurting my hooves on all these rocks.” Then, I realize it wasn’t my hooves they were pampering. It was He they were extolling. Esteeming Him so greatly, they put before Him their valuable garments as pavement for a dumb ole donkey to bring Him with honor into their City. My long ears were twitching with the cacophony of loud shouts that filled the air: “Ho-sannnnnnn-na!” Again and again. “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of Yahweh!” Then, I felt them on my neck. They weren’t raindrops. It was a sunny, blue-skyed day. They were tears. His hot tears falling on me. He had stopped me. All of the Holy City stretched below. As He scanned and surveyed His City, His Temple too, He lamented, “If you would only realize that today’s your day! Your day to welcome the Messiah who will deliver you. Instead, you will reject Me as you always have. And because you reject me, your enemies will lay siege, tear down your walls, and kill your children. Soon.” The tears began soaking through my mane. Puzzling over the disparity of my Rider’s sadness with the continuing shouts of rejoicing from the people pressing around Him, I felt Him gently nudge me to head on down the path. As we approached the gates, people lined the tops of the City’s walls and connected homes trying to get a glimpse of the cause of the commotion coming downing the road. The people on the wall shouted, “Who is that?” pointing to He-who-rode-on-MY-back. The crowd around us roared, “Jesus!” It's Jesus the King!" Had I known, perhaps, I would have made a U-turn and carried Him right back up the hill. Had I only known. Known that I was not carrying Him into the city to be seated on His throne, as everyone seemed to think, but carrying Him there to be hanged on a cross. But I didn’t. I carried Him there, and He did hang. And died. Yet, I heard later He rose from the dead! I heard that one day He is going to come down that same hill again. Next time He will sit on that throne. Only, next time, I won’t carry Him. Donkeys only carried Kings when they come in peace. My cousin the horse, the war stallion, the white one, will carry Him when He enters the City again. Next time He is coming to wage war and to judge. No, I won’t carry Him next time, but I will always have this: I was the first to carry Him! “White Stallion, you will be the second.” (I still struggle with that pride thing a bit.) [Scriptures: Mat. 21;1-12; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:29-45; John 12:12-18] --Pastor Clifford Hurst
“how did it feel to slap him?”
Bro. Clifford Hurst 04/03/2022
It was the “slap heard around the world.” But what I’d like to know is, How did he feel after he slapped the man? Did he feel shame? Regret? Remorse? Or, did he feel pride for doing something so bold? Justification for having defended another? Importance because of the adulation of his peers? Manly for doing something militant? Was he ever reprimanded for doing it? Or, was he awarded and promoted? Oh, and I am not talking about Will Smith who slapped comedian Chris Rock last week. I’m talking about the Temple security guard who slapped Jesus two millennia ago. It’s really not nice that a comedian got slapped. And it’s really, really not nice that Christ got slapped. Chris, it’s said, handled the slap nobly. Christ for sure did. Neither retaliated with a returned slap. Chris really did nothing. Christ plied the guard with a question; a question, that, had the guard any conscience or intelligence, must have pierced his soul. As Will ostensibly slapped Chris in defense of his wife--something Chris said about her, the Temple Guard slapped Jesus in defense of the High Priest--something Christ said to him. The guard said as he slapped Jesus, “How dare you to talk like that to the High Priest!” Jesus answered, perhaps with bleeding lips, “If I have said something evil and untrue, show how it’s evil and untrue. But, if I have spoken only the truth, why did you slap me.” Why indeed? But that’s not what I’m musing. I’m wondering how the guard felt having slapped Jesus, having slapped God! Normally, we consider how the one slapped, the one who received the blow felt. However, it was the guard, the perpetrator, who felt the greatest impact of the slap. I imagine he experienced an awful sting on his palm from the contact with Christ’s cheek. The sting he felt was far greater than the Christ felt from the slap. Not that Christ didn’t suffer a powerful, bruising blow. But how could it be otherwise? How could one slap a red-hot steel beam and not feel acute pain? How could a man slap God and not feel it in his hand, up his arm, into his heart? I wonder if the man in days to come stared at his hand and thought, “I slapped Him,” and felt anew the pain in his palm refer and run up his arm into his heart. Slapping someone is something to feel bad about. Bad because of what it does and means to the recipient. The slap brings not just physical pain and bruising. It results in insult. And indignity. This effect is an indictment against any man who would slap his wife or children or any other person. But it is also an indictment of all who have known or heard the Good News of Jesus giving His life in substitution for them, dying for them, and yet rejecting Him. Such refusal, such disdain. Such insult. Jesus died for you and you know it. Yet, you refuse Christ. You refuse to accept what He’s done for you and surrender your life and heart to Him. After the Guard had walked away, you might as well have been in line behind him and taken your turn to walk up to Jesus and with a closed heart but open palm slap Him across the face. How did Will feel? How did the Guard? How do you? How does it feel to reject Christ, to, in essence, slap Him across the face? If you say you feel nothing, you are in truly desperate shape. You are calloused indeed. The only acceptable slap I know of is the one given to bring someone out of a stupor or hysterical fit—if that truly works. At least it used to be acceptable. I am not advocating physical violence or coercion of non-believers, but, if your slapping Jesus does not bother you, you need a slap of your own. One to bring you to your senses. Out of your stupor. Or sinning hysteria. Again, not a literal one, but a slap of true shame, conviction, an epiphanic awakening of conscience. So, Will, Temple Guard, and Every Christ Rejector, “How did it feel to slap Him?” --Pastor Clifford Hurst
car-free sundays
Bro. Clifford Hurst 03/27/2022
The Russia-Ukraine war and its consequences on the world’s energy supply plus the resultant sanctions on Russian oil have generated proposals on how to deal with the impending fuel shortage. The International Energy Agency this week presented a ten-point plan to deal with oil usage and mitigate the fuel shortage. One of the ten is “Car-free Sundays.” What’s that? Around the world, no one should drive their vehicles anywhere on Sunday. Not any Sunday. All should keep their cars parked in the garage or on the drive—on Sundays. In short, “Car-free Sundays” are church-free Sundays. At least where there’s no public transport available. Let me tell you how at least one pastor sees that. Whether the IEA is an unwitting accomplice or not, whether Car-free Sundays are enacted and enforced or not, Satan is yet again seeking to push through another way to discourage folks from not going to a house of worship on Sunday. If $5 a gallon, won’t keep them home, cut out driving altogether. If that sounds awfully conspiratorial, it is yet not coincidental. There are just too many things that seemed designed and institutionalized to keep folks from gathering in church to worship. And too many who are willing to avail themselves to do those things. Of course, for not going to church many professed Christians have used the “my-ox-is-stuck-in-the-ditch” excuse so frequently that they gave the Evil One an idea: He would just stick their car in the garage. As a pastor, I think your car would look far better in a parking place on a church lot than on your driveway. I know it would do the driver and passenger far more good. It may mean less fuel in the car’s tank, but more in its owner’s heart. “ I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the LORD.” (Psa 122:1) -Pastor Clifford Hurst
what’s in putin’s mind? it doesn’t matter!
Bro. Clifford Hurst 03/20/2022
With the Bear on the move, the stock market crashing, the virus again spreading, it is easy to believe that things are out of control. It seems like an empty platitude merely to say “God is in control!” Isn’t that kind of like whistling in the dark? Not if it’s true. It is. God is in control! Often during this invasion of Ukraine by Russia, I have heard pundits puzzling over what “is going on in Putin’s malevolent mind.” “What are his plans, his goals, his purposes?” However, the real question is What is going on in God’s mind? In the end, it’s not the movements and purposes of nations and men that will triumph, but the purposes of God. Although the world often looks like out-of-control chaos, everything is happening according to the plan of God. This is not to say that Putin doesn’t have his own purposes. (There are religious underpinnings and designs to Putin’s plans and machinations that are not mentioned in the media—or barely mentioned.) It is not to say the Putin’s evil purposes are in fact God’s. That would make God culpable of evil. It is to say, that whatever Putin’s or any person’s purposes, God has a greater, overarching, controlling one. How can this be? If God is doing what He wants in the world, how can Putin be doing what he wants? If Putin is pursuing his purpose resultant in great evil, the tragic loss of civilian life, awful suffering, and horrible destruction, how can God be pursuing His purpose of good, righteousness, and peace for the world? A recent re-reading of Jeremiah impressed me that God has an overarching plan that encompasses and controls the movements of the nations and the leaders that instigate them: Babylon was the world power at the time. That empire was on the move. It had crushed countries and their leaders. Specifically, Babylon had destroyed Judah, Jerusalem, and God’s Holy Temple. It had led the people of God captive to exilic servitude. Yet, even as Babylon was doing so, God said it itself would be destroyed. Annihilated. Despite what it or any other nation did. Why such certainty? Because God had purposed it. He had plans for Babylon. Plans He would perform. (Jer 51:29). Plans to both use Babylon to judge other nations and then to use other nations to judge Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar, emperor of Babylon, was on the move, invading nations to expand His empire. Much like Putin. Invading Judah, He thought the battle plans, his; the strategies, his; the invasions, his; the victory over other nations, his. God said, “Nope. I’m only using you as my hammer to crush other nations that I want to judge.” (Jer 51:20). Whatever Putin has in mind, it’s what is in God’s mind that will prevail. As indubitably as God employed Babylon to judge Judah, He would then use the Persian/Medes to judge Babylon. He would “stir them up” to do that very thing. Again, the Persians/Medes would believe that it was their own conceived and invented intentions to conquer Babylon, but it was God’s purposes prevailing. And so forth, until this present day. I’m not saying God is using Russia to judge Ukraine. Not only do I not know specifically what’s in Putin’s mind, I don’t know what’s in God’s mind—although He has revealed His larger plan. It is an eschatological one of a global government led by the Antichrist. There is more movement among the nations happening in our world today than Putin’s invasion of Ukraine or China’s intentions to do the same of Taiwan. The world’s nations are moving to adjust to a new world order without the USA playing the role of a superpower. Somehow, the movements of nations today are a re-arranging of the world for that last government that excludes Christ--whether a particular nation or its leader has this in mind or not. That’s what God says will happen. That’s what He has in mind. God’s purposes are not, ultimately, to bring about the Antichrist’s one-world government. No! They are the establishment of Christ’s Millennial Government of Peace and Righteousness. That is where things are headed. The Antichrist’s one-world government is but a pre-cursory rebellion that God will crush and, then, consequentially, inaugurate Christ’s Kingdom on earth. It may yet be bothering some that, if all that is happening in our world is doing so according to God’s plans and purposes, how is God not culpable for the evil? Does not Putin have a freewill? Does not anyone? These are pertinent and huge questions. I have space to offer only a simple analogy: If an amateur plays a master chess player, the amateur makes free choices of where and how he moves his pieces. But the master chess player controls the board. It doesn’t matter the free choice of each movement the amateur makes; the master player has a plan to control the game. The master’s victory is inevitable and according to his strategic plan. It doesn’t matter what the amateur has in mind, thinks, plans. The master player is in control. In his mind, he sees the whole board and what moves need made however the amateur moves, whatever is the amateur’s mind. Yes, Putin is the amateur here. What is Putin’s plan? His purpose? What’s in Putin’s mind? It doesn’t matter. In the end, it’s only what is in God’s mind that matters. --Pastor Clifford Hurst P.S. If any thinks that I’m saying that it doesn’t matter what Russia is doing to the Ukrainian people my point has been missed. Of course, that matters greatly
dedicated to cardboard straws and sea turtles
Bro. Clifford Hurst 03/13/2022
It’s unbelievable how trashy America has become. And I’m not talking about folks’ political talk, potty mouths, or perverted entertainment. I’m talking literally. Trash. Litter-ally. I know it is only anecdotal, but I do not believe I have ever seen so much litter along our roadways. To me, this is telling evidence of how degraded America has become. The ubiquitous trash is not only a sign of degradation, it is also a sign of the blatant hypocrisy of our society. Here's the irony: Our society, with righteous indignation against any who would disagree, decries the polluting of our environment. Global Warming alarmists have indoctrinated two generations of the need to save our planet by, for instance, banning gasoline and plastic straws. I admit they’ve done a bang-up job. They’ve been successful. Their disciples are rabid and radical in their insistence that others do this or don’t do that, use this, or don’t use that. They have transformed children into environmental police who scold their parents and others for infractions. They have successfully coerced and cajoled those who run food industry corporations into using cardboard straws. Every time I have no choice but to use a paper straw, I get annoyed. Some of it is that putting a paper straw in my mouth gives me the same awful irritation as biting and pulling a popsicle stick through my teeth or hearing nails scratching down a chalkboard. But there is a greater irritation. The hypocrisy of it all. To be clear, I believe in stewardship of our planet. That’s the main reason I find litter repugnant. We should take care of this planet. I don’t want to kill a sea turtle or an orca with my plastic straw. But my real beef about the litter on our roadways is the hypocrisy revealed by that litter. See, these “environmentalists” and their indoctrinated devotees are supposed to be all about saving our planet. They have been successful in getting students from kindergarten to college to go green, to protest against the use of plastic straws, to shame those who do not recycle. And, yet, those same students, many now adults, are littering our streets. All that litter can’t be coming from elderly red-necked, radical right-wingers. All that litter can’t be coming from sea turtle killers. There are tons of it. Much of it has to be coming from those (or their disciples) who insist we must give up gasoline-powered vehicles for electric ones to save this world from imminent conflagration. Yet, they throw their trash out of the windows of their electric car just as they did from their gas-guzzling one. I’ve, perhaps, convoluted my point with my rant, but it’s this: I’d like to ask the indoctrinators, “If you really care about saving this planet rather than just indoctrinating and controlling people’s lives, why don’t you teach these kids not to litter. I give you credit. You have gotten them to use brown paper bags at the grocery and brown paper straws in their soft drinks. You are good at this. So, if you really care about going green, why don’t you teach them not to litter.” Someone’s not teaching them. And if they really want to save the planet, why do they litter our highways?” It’s a different subject, but the point and the promulgators are the same; I would like to go on with, “You have taught them your version of tolerance. You have taught them everything is offensive from the names of our founders on monuments to using the name of original residents for a ball team. You’ve taught them you can’t even say “huMAN” because it is a slur against “woMEN.” Why don’t you teach them to have good manners?” “Again, I give you credit. You’ve changed our whole vocabulary, what we can and can’t say. Why can’t you teach not to curse, not to talk vulgar? You teach tolerance. Why can’t you teach folks not to spew hate at anyone with whom they may disagree?” “You say, ‘Everyone should be treated fairly,’ why don’t you teach manners of common courtesy and decency?” Never has there been such a lack of manners. Of course, there are exceptions but order a hamburger. The cashier most often will not even look at you. There is no common greeting. There is no, “Thank you.” On and on I could rant. But just one more thing to ask my strawman with the cardboard straws, “If you can see everything as discrimination of some sort or the other, some kind of phobia, why can you not see the bad manners? Why do bad manners not matter? Why do you have such bad manners when speaking to someone of a different persuasion?” If you’re waiting for a spiritual point and wondering if I have one, it’s this: We Christians must be careful lest we practice the same hypocrisy. Some that are so insistent on what, to them, constitutes a godly lifestyle, can be the cruelest, most gossipy, unfriendly, uncaring folks. Since I’m stuck on littering, let me illustrate with it. Once a minister wanted to go on a drive through the country to talk with me. He reprimanded me for having a different view on an issue ultra-conservatives consider taboo. As he was insisting I could not be conservative, holiness—or whatever he called it, he finished the candy bar he had been munching between barrages, wadded up the wrapper, rolled down the window, and tossed it out on the shoulder of the road. To me, all credence of his protestations of having a view more spiritual than mine went out the window with the wrapper. It happens on the other side of the spectrum (and everywhere in between too). Christians who insist it's all about love, love, love—tolerating any and everything, even embracing lifestyles of perverted sexuality--can become so hatefully caustic against any who insist that some things are sin, unbefitting a believer. Yes, in a sense, it does all come down to litter and manners. These really do reveal the kind of person, heart, and faith that we have. We cannot consistently act inconsistently to what we really are in our core. I want to be right in my core. I want to be consistent in my faith and practice. So, when the worker at the restaurant hands me a paper straw, I will say, “Thank you. Have a nice day.” And, I will not throw that irritating piece of cardboard out the window as I drive off. Maybe a sea turtle will be kind enough to thank me someday. --Pastor Clifford Hurst
what a werewolf has to do with jesus’ promise to never leave us
Bro. Clifford Hurst 03/06/2022
For this week’s blog, my obsession with words has won out over any sense of trying to write something that others might find interesting or relevant—though I hope they will. I fear many will take this musing as trivial minutia, needless nuance, but it really isn’t. It can make a world of difference in our understanding of some scriptures. The keyword of the last sentence was WORLD. It is necessary to set this up with a basic fact about translation: Two or more different words in one language are often translated into a single word in another language. Take WORLD for example: When we read in our Bibles, “For God so loved the WORLD...” (John 3:16), the Greek word of the original text that was translated WORLD is kosmos. The same is true in John 1:10, “He was in the WORLD and the WORLD was made by Him, and the WORLD knew Him not.” Each occurrence of WORLD in that verse is a translation of kosmos—speaking both of the material planet and the people on it. However, when Jesus makes that great promise of Matthew 28:20, “I am with you alway, even unto the end of the WORLD.”, WORLD is translating a completely different Greek word—aion. WORLD as aion means age, as in epoch, era, a period of time. If one doubts that, note that the Greek aion has found its way into our English. Aeon, or as we Americans spell it, eon. Eon is a long period of time, an age. Jesus’s promise was that He would be with His disciples always, even to the end of the EON, the AGE. This isn't to say that He would be with them unto the world, the planet Earth, was no more--though He will, but that He will be with them until the age in which they lived would end. Having known this, I always wondered why the KJV/Elizabethan English translated the Greek word for age (aion) as WORLD. Recently, during my reading and studying I stumbled over the reason: In old English “wer” was the word for “man” and “-eld” is our “old.” Put them together and you get wereld, or werold. Werold we now spell WORLD. By the way, say WORLD out loud. You most probably pronounced it (wer-eld). Werold meant literally how old a man was or a man’s age. A man’s age is how long he has existed. A man is a human. Thus, werold became the reference to the period of a person, persons, or humanity’s existence. Werald, written later as WORLD, came to refer to an AGE. As an asterisk but explanation of my title, if you struggle to believe that “wer” was once the word for "man," we still have words that preserve this meaning. Take werewolf. Werewolf is a compound noun that means "MAN—wolf." Well, back from mythical creatures to Jesus’ very real promise—“ I am with you alway, even unto the end of the WORLD,” uhm, “unto the end of the AGE. The disciples were on the brink of an awful period of time that would culminate with the destruction of Jerusalem and the slaughter of their people. In a broader meaning, they and the soon-to-be-many converts to Christ were on the brink of an age of persecution of believers. Yet, there’s an even broader meaning of “age” in Jesus’ promise. He often spoke of the Kingdom as existing in two ages. The present age and the age to come. God, earlier, and the NT believers, later, called the present age the Last Days. In its widest meaning, the age in which Jesus will be with His people is the Last Days, the period of perilous times, times of deception, times of wars, times of calamities, catastrophes, times of cosmic disturbances. By this promise, Jesus said He would be with His disciples whenever they lived, wherever they lived, whatever they faced until the completion of this age—the age of the Last Days. Yes, He will be with us to the end of this age, this world. Now, this is not the same as saying, “I will be with you to the bitter end.” Because, as Jesus clearly taught, the tumultuous age of the Last Days ends with His Return which will inaugurate the New Age, which will be eternal. He will always, eternally, be with us in that age as well. He will be with us to the end of this world, and we will be with Him in the next world. That world (age) never ends. That’s why the NT uses the aion twice in an expression to mean “forever.” Into the aionas aion. Into the eons of eons. Into the ages of ages. When you read those “for ever and ever, evermores,” in NT Scripture, those words referencing eternity, you are reading “into the ages of ages,” or as it’s put in Eph 3:21, “…world without end.” Jesus will be with us unto the end of this WORLD, until we get to the “world without end,” to the end of this age to the ages of ages. Whatever season of life you are in, whatever period of darkness, difficulty, despair, whatever kinds of time you’re living in—whatever the world you’re living in is like at this moment, Jesus has promised He will be with you until you’ve reached the end of it. He will be with you until this age ends and the age of ages begins. Until this world is over and the world without end begins. He’s with you in whatever time you’re in for its duration.
Bro. Clifford Hurst 02/27/2022
Do you say “Toh-mah-toe” or “Toh-may-toe”? Ever wonder why we say things so differently with different meanings across different generations, geography, and sub-cultures? Have you ever wondered, as a child quoting a nursery rhyme why some of the words didn’t rhyme? Take Mother Goose’s Jack and Jill: Jack and Jill went up a hill to fetch a pail of water. Jack fell down and broke his crown and Jill came tumbling after. “Water” and “after” in the stanza are supposed to rhyme. They don’t. But, originally, they did. Now, at least in most of the U.S., they don’t. Not at all. Then there are words like “word.” Here’s an example church folk will get. At least older ones: One of my favorite hymns as a child was “I Remember When My Burdens Rolled Away.” One line always bothered me: “When I sought the blessed Lord, And I took Him at His word…” “Lord” and “word” are supposed to rhyme. They didn’t. They don’t. When I was older, I tried to explain this lack of rhyming with that thing in poetry called half-rhyme. Recently, through reading a book a friend gave me, I discovered the real reason “water” and “after” and “Lord” and “word” don’t’ rhyme. And why you may say, “Toh-mah-toe.” Knowing the reason also made me feel less like a country bumpkin. I moved from the Southwest to the farthest Midwestern state. I’m phonetically challenged anyway, but folks had fun with how I pronounced words. Words like donkey. I didn’t pronounce it “dahn-key” but somewhere between “doin-key,” and “dohn-key.” Even my children guffawed when I would say, “Quit Peeenching (long e as in “peach) each other,” instead of “pinching” (short i, like in ick.). As a child, I used to think it humorous that my cousins in the far Northwest said, “whuht?” instead of whaht? Now I understand why. I know you’re dying to know the reason. It can be put in one word. Drift. When we hear “drift,” we normally think of an unanchored boat carried off by the tide or snow blowing across the road. But drift explains what is happening in the examples above. Words drift in meaning and pronunciation. One reason words drift is that vowels drift. We make vowel sounds at the top of our mouths. Some we make at the very front, just behind the teeth. Others we make further and further back towards the throat. I’m oversimplifying this, but let’s just take one word, bat. Some say, baat and some baht. Originally, it was pronounced like something closer to beat. But, the vowel in bat drifted over time. It drifted from beat to bit to bait to bet to bat. If you would say this sequence, you would find that the vowel sound is moving at the roof of your mouth from the front at the first instance to the back at the last. This explains so many things. Like why food, good, and flood, all have different pronunciations of “oo.” The same vowels drifted in different directions at different speeds. But, drift they did. Well, that was fun, but I’m really alarmed with a drift of another kind. As folks recognized how I said, “pinch” differently because of vowel drift, there is just as noticeable drift going on in Christianity. It is evident in individuals, families, churches, and movements. I may be wrong, but it seems that the recent COVID crisis has accelerated the drift. A drift from a personal relationship with God. A drift from church attendance and involvement. A drift from orthodox, Bible-grounded doctrine. A drift from essential tenets and practices of faith. A drift from reverent, God-focused worship. The way I say or used to say, “pinch” may be funny. But the drift that’s happening within American Christianity is not funny. Many Christians are sounding more like post-modernist relativists than Biblical Christians. Many churches have become entertainment venues, even inviting secular bands to perform in their services. Others seem to think that the Gospel is all about giving folks a good dose of self-esteem and helping them cause all their dreams to come true. Cardinal truths like Jesus’ being God and substitutionary atonement and Bible infallibility and authority are becoming a distant shore in the drifting tack of so many. The message of the Blood has become to many, antiquated, crude, and primitive. Slowly. Incrementally. Almost imperceptibly. Individuals are drifting. Families are drifting. Churches are drifting. Movements are drifting. With the currents of our times. With the social movements and fads of our age. With the political correctness. With the craze for entertainment. With the do-it-yourself, make-up-your own religion trend. With thinking they can be spiritual without cardinal beliefs or personal commitment to a community of believers. Not even bothering to look to the shore from which they’ve drifted, many are unaware they have or how far they have. Individuals have drifted miles from any passionate serving and worshiping Christ. Their attendance at worship is sporadic, hit and miss—if extant at all, dependent on their capricious inclinations. Whole congregations have drifted from truth and practice until they have drifted from even gathering at all. Their former church’s windows are boarded over and their doors locked. Just as the vowels in words drift both ways, so do people and churches and movements. Some drift from the Word of God, the genuine experience of grace, to libertinism. Some drift from the Word in the opposite direction into legalism, traditionalism. Either way, the drift is going to be disastrous. Folks are drifting with the seemingly pleasant, undiscerned currents of our times or with their myopic, provincial, legalism with no regard for the rapids and cataracts ahead. Drift is disastrous. For individual. For family. For church. For movement. In the end, it will not matter if I say peeench instead of pinch (the way I said it is actually closest to the original pronunciation). But it will matter if I quit believing, for instance, there is salvation in no other name but Jesus and start believing that each can discover his own path. Drift matters in my relationship with God. It’s not the drift in my mouth but the drift in my heart and mind and beliefs that matter most. Don’t drift from God no matter if you say peeeench or pinch, toh-mah-toe or toh-may-toe. --Pastor Clifford Hurst I’ve anchored in Jesus, the storms of life I’ll brave, I’ve anchored in Jesus, I fear no wind or wave; I’ve anchored in Jesus, for He hath pow’r to save, I’ve anchored to the Rock of Ages. --Lewis E. Jones
the why? will turn to when?
Bro. Clifford Hurst 02/20/2022
Increasingly, I am convinced that nothing--no philosophy, no religion, no pursuit, no lifestyle, no possession--can give any hope in life and death but the message of true Christianity. In a sentence, I believe this because nothing else can give historical, objective reason to believe that there is something beyond this life. For all the protestations of those who have jettisoned God insisting they have found meaning in life without Him, the stark reality is that, if there is no God (the Biblical One) there is no life after death. And, if there is no life after death, there is no real life before it. There is no life in life. Often, I have voiced disdain and aversion to modern platitudes like, "Live for the moment." "It's about the journey, not the destination." "It is what it is." I get the kernel of truth in each of these: “Live for the moment.” If we try to live life with only a nostalgia gaze to the past or a wishful one to the future, we will live a miserable present. “It's about the journey, not the destination.” I get it. Analogously, if on a road trip all you focus on is arriving at your destination, you will miss so much and enjoy nothing of the trip. “It is what it is.” There are circumstances that we find ourselves in over which we seemingly have no control, that there is nothing we can do to change. We must simply accept and face them. But, with God and eternal life, God and heaven, these axioms do not describe all of life, but only a facet of it. There is something more than this moment. Beyond this moment. Beyond all our allotted moments. There is a destination to my journey, one past death and decay, time and age. Eternal life turns that journey cliché on its head. If there is something beyond life's journey, it's really not what the journey is like that matters. It's where the journey ends. It IS about getting there; or, at least, about where it is you arrive. And, it isn't what it is. It may be what it is right now. But it won't always be what it is. There is something after this life that, for the believer in Christ, will rectify, recompense, restore, the bad of life. In the past two years, I have faced both personally and pastorally the deaths of those close to me. I have encountered physical pain and sickness at levels I've never known. I have reached a milestone of age that demands contemplation of how few moments there are left, how little of the journey lies ahead, how soon it isn't going to be what it is. Intent aside, I am not remarkably altruistic. Yet, during folk's loss of loved ones in these last two years, particularly from COVID and cancer, I have felt so badly for them and their dealing with, in many cases, the cruel, untimely, loss of ones they loved best. They, good believers all, haven't asked it out loud. They have in most instances suppressed it. But there must be that persistent, dark question as constant white noise in the background of their minds, WHY? They may never articulate the WHY?, but I see that question behind the expressions of grief. I feel it in their ache of loss. WHY? Those with faith are not supposed to ask it. Or admit asking it. I mean, if we were going by Karma, these folks should not have died. They were among the best, let me say it, the goodest. Great people. Great faith. Why did they die? If this life is all there is, if there is no God, and, consequently, no eternal life, no heaven, then this question wins. WHY? will not let us live the moment. WHY? will not let us enjoy the journey. And WHY? is what it is and all there is; All we have is just a WHY?. But, wait! There is a God. There is eternal life. There is a heaven. I'm not saying these things answer the question WHY?. But, I am saying that when WHY? crashes your moment, you can know there is heaven after all your moments. When WHY? is a pothole on the road, a bridge out, a detour, a tree-down over the path of your journey, you can know that heaven is at the end of it. When the it it-is is only an ugly, harsh, cruel, black, and dark demanding WHY?, you can know it-is isn't always going to be what it is. One day, the “it” is going to be heaven. These musings have led me to a conclusion: Thinking of our loved ones who have passed on, with our faith solidly in God, however strong the grief, however loud the question, we can know this: There will come that moment when the Why? will turn to When? I will make it to heaven. I will see them again. The only question is When? Knowing there's a When, I can live the moment, face whatever it-is is, enjoy the journey however rough. I know there is going to be a When. When I get there. When I see them again. Yes, as believers, there is a moment in our grief, in our loss, when the WHY? will turn to “When?” The only question is When? --Pastor Clifford Hurst
be silly
Bro. Clifford Hurst 02/13/2022
The urging of the title above is the opposite of the reprimand we have often heard, particularly, when we were children: “Don’t be silly!” Or, as often put, “Stop being silly!” That meant to stop being foolish. Stop being frivolous. Stop trying to be funny. Stop being ludicrous. Stop being absurd. Stop being incredulous. Stop acting like you don’t have any sense. Stop acting immaturely. All true. Silly is something we don’t want to be. Or maybe we do. Maybe we want to be silly. Silly hasn’t always meant what it does today. Silly wasn’t always a bad thing to be. It was once a good thing to be. And that’s how it became a bad thing to be—by being a good thing. Huh? How words change meaning has intrigued me, particularly since learning Biblical Greek and beginning serious Bible study, while at the same time being exposed to various local vernacular during ministry in different parts of our nation. Words evolved. Words travel. Silly has had an incredible journey to get where it is today. Silly put in its appearance in our language as Blessed. That’s right, Blessed, as in happy for one’s good fortune, having the pleasure of God’s favor. If one was silly, he was blessed, as in, “Gilbert had a bumper crop this harvest. He is so silly.” Silly as Blessed traveled through time until it became in the eyes of all who saw it, or rather spoke it, as meaning pitiful, feeble, weak, helpless. If one was silly, he was in awful shape as in “John (Gilbert’s great-great-great-grandson) has had a terrible harvest for the last three years. He is going bankrupt. He will lose the farm. He is so silly.” As Pitiful, Silly traipsed on through time until he arrived at our recent ancestors’ and our era. Somewhere along the way, Silly changed again. When he arrived, we met Silly as the twins Foolish and Frivolous. If one is silly, he is a thinks-he’s-funny, ignorant, bumbling, imbecile. If one is silly, he is foolish, as in, “Ed (John’s great-great-grandson) thinks he is going to save his farm in Minnesota by growing pineapples and oranges. He is so silly.” That’s how Silly changed in meaning from Blessed to Frivolous/Foolish as it made its journey through language over the centuries. But that doesn’t tell us how it changed. Knowing how Silly changed can be a real silliness. Or should I say a real blessing? So let me try to explain so you won’t think me silly. Or, maybe I want you to think me silly. It goes like this. Silly started out as Blessed. If one is blessed, he has received fortune and favor that has made him happy. To be silly was to be blessed. But who needs to be blessed more than the weak, the feeble, those living in unhappy squalor and lack, those in the most unfavorable of circumstances? None need blessed like those in this shape. Thus, Silly, Blessed, changed from meaning the good fortune that someone received to the condition he was in that caused him to need the good fortune. Silly, Blessed, became the word for those who needed blessed--the feeble, weak, etc. Silly had become Pitiful. However, since there is no worse feebleness than foolishness and no worse foolishness than being frivolous about one’s plight, Pitiful became Foolish. None is as silly as one in awful shape but is too foolish to see his awful condition but instead frivolously makes light of it. Silly indeed. Silly has become the twins Foolish and Frivolous. The context I’ve forgotten. But in a classic novel, an older man is talking to a young woman and says, “One of us has been very silly, and I have to say, ‘It’s not me.’” Well, I have to say, “It is me!” I have been silly. I’ve made some foolish mistakes and choices. I have been silly. I’ve been in awful shape. Messed up. Weak. Feeble. But Silly has traveled the opposite way. Silly was the brokenness, the feebleness, the weakness of my life but God saw it. He responded to it. He gave grace, strength, goodness, and mercy. My silly was the occasion for His blessing. Silly had again become Blessing. Think I’m all off about this? What of these testimonies from Scripture? “When I’m weak, then I am strong in the Lord.” “God had regard to my low estate and responded with favor.” “I had fear, and God gave me perfect love.” “I had sin abounding, and grace super abounded.” “I wore rags, God gave me a robe of righteousness.” This is no appeal for being silly. But the next time you hear, “Don’t be silly,” you might think, “But I want to be silly,” and, when you’re told—as someone may be telling me as he reads this--“Stop being silly,” you might respond, “I hope I never stop being silly.” Friend, be silly. Be blessed. --Pastor Clifford Hurst
spiraling upward
Bro. Clifford Hurst 02/06/2022
Remember spiral notebooks? I don’t think I’ve used one in years. You? They used to be a huge part of my life during eighteen years of school and decades of study, meetings, and such. Well, I guess I can’t count the earliest elementary Big Chief years. I’m not sure what grade transition brought the spiral notebooks. All I know is that years ago, staring at the coiled spring binding my spiral notebook, I had an epiphany about history, life, and Bible prophecy. There is an axiom, “History repeats itself.” The validity of that statement was codified by Solomon three thousand years earlier. In his Ecclesiastes, he famously notes that “there is no new under thing the sun.” (Ecc 1:9). He declares this after having illustrated it with the endless cycle of one generation being replaced with a subsequent one, the sun’s daily rising and setting, the wind’s continual alternating blowing from one direction and then the opposite, and a water droplet’s cyclic journey from river to sea to sky to river and back to sea. Life is an endless cycle. Thus, history is an endless cycle. I agree, though my corroboration is not needed nor required to verify the popular adage and the Bible sage. History repeats itself. Life repeats itself. Each year, with each marker of seasons and annual events I find myself remarking, “Here we go again! We’ve just done this, celebrated this, seen this.” That history repeats itself has been in my thoughts a lot lately with the constant news of the recent massing of huge numbers of Russian troops on Ukraine’s border signaling Putin’s desired intention to invade. This impending threat is being met with our and other nations’ seeking to prevent him from doing so with placating diplomacy that is careful to avoid any mention of the use of force. When I first heard this news, as a reader of history, I immediately thought of the pre-WWII days when Germany began to mass its troops to invade Poland and the allied nations began to try to appease Hitler with placating diplomacy. I found myself saying, “Here we go again. History repeats itself.” It does. So does life. This is where the spiral notebook comes in. You may have done this. I did. If you were to begin at one end of the coil and begin to trace its first loop, your finger, obviously, would go in circles. If you kept tracing, your finger would go around and around and around. You would be repeating the same action—a circular one. Your finger, again and again, would trace the same path through space. It would keep ending in the same place it began. Wait. No, it wouldn’t. Though going in circles, your finger would NOT be ending in the same place. Yes, history repeats itself—but not like tracing the circumference of a ring, but like tracing a loop on the coil of a spiral notebook. If you trace the circumference of a ring, your finger truly does keep making cycles and ending up at the same place however many times you trace it. But, if you trace the loops of the coil of a spiral notebook, although you make circle after circle, cycle after cycle, your finger moves linearly through space. If you start at one end, after making each cycle, you end up 10 1/2” from where you started. With all the circular movement, your finger has moved linearly. You didn’t end up where you began. Such is true with history. For all history’s repeating itself, going in cycles, it is--from Judeo-Christian worldview--headed somewhere. For all of my life’s endless cycles, it is going somewhere. For all of God’s people’s constant, reoccurring trials, battles, we are headed somewhere. But this begs a question. If history, despite its repeating itself, is moving in a linear direction, who, what, is moving it? Who makes the repetitions like loops in the coil of the spiral? Or, whose finger is tracing the loops? Some say it is just the Darwinian force that moves history. Others, just time and chance. Others say it's greed, money. Others, the struggle between classes. Others, the evolution of thought, philosophy. Others, religion. Etc. We Christians believe it is God. God moves history. God is moving history to a determined end. God is in control. God is behind the scenes at work. He even breaks out from behind the scenes to intervene and involve Himself in history. As He did in the person of Jesus. As He does in miracles. God moves history, yet allows humans their free will which they often use in direct opposition to God. Yet, even their diametric choices God, in the larger scheme of things, moves towards the end He has purposed. God does not cause the evil, horrible things that result from human choice and action—like the holocaust. But God moves them in a direction of His perfect plan with a perfect ending. This reveals a conundrum: If God is in control of history, if God is moving history, why does it seem to be moving from bad to worse? Why does human existence seem rushing to cataclysmic destruction? Well, it is—and it isn’t. By any measure, by any honest observation, our world seems headed towards dreadful demolition by its own volition. There’s little cause to deny that. But despite that reality, it’s also true that God is moving this world towards a Kingdom of Peace, Righteousness, and Glory. He is moving this earth to a new one. He is moving man’s dystopic world to His utopian one. The same is true for each believer’s life. Whatever bad, hurtful, disappointing things occur in his cycles of life, God is moving that believer to a perfect outcome. Yes, despite its repeating itself, history--human history, my history, your history--is moving somewhere. Where to? Which direction? That depends on the status of one’s faith in God. One’s relationship with God determines which way along the coil one is moving. One’s faith in God determines one’s point of view. History is forever repeating itself. It is moving along the loops of the coil of the spiral notebook of reality. By all appearances, it appears that all is spiraling downward. Out of control. We know it’s not. It is spiraling upward. In God’s control. To a glorious future for those whose faith is in Him. --Pastor Clifford Hurst
it’s fear
Bro. Clifford Hurst 01/30/2022
Although our government would like us to believe that it is science that is driving its COVID policies, mandates, and restrictions, it’s not. Although conspiracy theorists would like us to believe it is a malevolent elitist group of individuals, it’s really not—at least not ultimately. It’s something much more primordial. It’s fear. Fear of death. At the very beginning of the pandemic, the forecast of possible millions of deaths resulted in draconian measures though the number of infected was at that time minuscule. And, the forecasts have proved basically correct. Millions have died. Close to six million. That is tragic. As a pastor, I have experienced folk’s loss of loved ones from COVID close up. I’m convinced it is unthinkably heartlessness to respond to people’s loss with diatribes against government intrusion and railings about conspiracies how “they” have taken COVID, which is “no worse than the common flu,” and misinterpreted, abused, and twisted the data, to present COVID as an awful plague. Reality is people have died. From COVID. Whatever other underlying issues, the point is, had there not been COVID, most of these would not have died. Without considering their coming across as heartless and compassionless, many political conservatives have denied or ignored these deaths and with boastful bravado bellowed that they have no fear of death by the virus. On the other hand, media and governments and those of a liberal political persuasion have used COVID deaths to capitalize on, play to, kindle and feed the fire of the fear of death to their own selfish ends--to gain power and control. Whether denied or used to malignant ends, the fear of death is a reality. Fear of death is not silly, groundless; Death is real. Death is something fearful. Death is an enemy, a thief, a cheat. It is the fear of death that compels a person with an almost zero chance of dying from COVID to get a vaccination and then a booster, and then another booster, and then another. It is the fear of death that causes someone, the only occupant in the car, to drive down the highway fully masked. It is the fear of death that causes folks without symptoms to line up in the cold shoulder to shoulder for hours to acquire a test for COVID—not considering a high possibility of contracting the virus while standing in line for a test. These do not just have a fear of death, they are in bondage to the fear of death. If you are human, you cannot fault the folks described above. However one tries to suppress it, whatever bravado one exhibits in deny having it, whoever boasts he is above and beyond it, the truth is the fear of death is inherent to us. We fear death. Perhaps, some to a much lesser extent than others. But, even if it is a mere apprehension, that is still fear of death. If nothing else, we fear death because we fear the unknown. The only substantive, evidence-based reason for not fearing death is faith in Jesus Christ. But I am ahead of myself. The greatest pandemic girdling our globe is not the virus, but the fear of death. It’s got a stranglehold on our world. This begs the question. If humans have always had this fear of death—and they have, why is there such heightened, exaggerated, phobic fear of death sweeping our world with the advent of COVID? I believe we can attribute this heightened fear to Darwinism and the cosmological theories of the universe’s origin that it later birthed. Generations have been taught Darwinism as an explanation for the origin of life (Darwinism is actually about the survival of life, not the origin). The unrelenting constancy of this teaching has eroded the Christian worldview of western societies. The preponderance of the populace today, because of embracing a non-God origin of our universe, is now naturalists. That doesn’t mean they like to take walks in nature. It means they believe the physical universe of matter and energy is all there is. If this is all there is and a human is just a collection of minerals and chemicals, then when one dies, that’s it. He is no more. Obliterated. Annihilated. Erased. He ceases to be. For all the protestations of some that this conclusion does not bother them, facing annihilation can only exponentially accentuate the inherent fear of death. You may question my insistence that the fear of death is ubiquitously inherent. But the reality is there has always been both a fear of death and bondage to that fear; it is contemporarily increased—despite how scientific or technologically advanced humanity has become. The Bible confirms this fear of death with a wonderful, liberating truth: Jesus came for the expressed purpose of destroying the one who has the power of death and to deliver all those who for fear of death spend their lives in bondage. (Heb. 2:14, 15). And, Jesus did just that. He defeated this enemy called death. He took away death's power. He beat it. We no longer need to be bound, debilitated, tormented by this fear of death. We often fear death because we’ve never crossed the threshold into that unknown. Simply, we’ve not been there. But Jesus has. He died. He’s been there. And, He’s come back--after He defeated death. He’s come back and said, “There’s life beyond that door.” If there’s life beyond that door, there’s also a reunion of those who believe in Jesus. Those who have lost loved ones can know in Christ those loved ones yet live! They can know that one day they can join those loved ones when they too die. Joyous reunion. Elucidating what I just said, the Apostle Paul shouted out, “O Death, hey, you there, Death. Where is your sting? And by the way, O Grave, where is your victory?” That’s our response to the fear of death. And that’s not bellicose bellowing bravado. That’s the truth! --Pastor Clifford Hurst
it’s time to turn this plane around
It would have been an embarrassment with the mistake duplicated hundreds of thousands of times as it ubiquitously blanketed our state. If any state should have known what was correct, it was ours. Thankfully, somebody caught it but only after our governor had unveiled it: A new version of our state’s license plate had been designed, approved, and was about to be released. Thirty-five thousand had already been produced. Labeled, “Sunrise in Ohio,” it depicts a colorful landscape blend of urban and bucolic portraying what Ohio has to offer—major cities, multiple rivers, fertile fields, beautiful hills, and stately trees. A boy swinging on a tree swing with his dog standing nearby adds the element of prospect, promise, and peace—this is a place to raise a family. Every detail--coloration, imagery, placement of details, and readability of letters--had been fastidiously fussed over and approved. Still, something was drastically wrong. Heralding Ohio’s unique place in history, across the top of the scene, above a rising sun, is the Wright brothers’ Flyer I, pulling a banner reading “Birthplace of Aviation.” An emblem of our state’s shape and its name is centered on and superimposed over the banner. What was the mistake? The airplane was headed in the wrong direction. The banner was stretched out in the air from left to right. But the Wright’s plane, which is depicted towing it, has the banner attached to its front and is flying towards it. The mistake is easy to make. The first airplane had its wings towards the rear and what has the appearance of a tail on modern planes on its very front. Designers of the license plate, thus, positioned the plane headed in the wrong direction. Yes, it was a mistake easy to make, but Ohio shouldn’t have. Ohio should have known. Ohio is the birthplace of flight. North Carolina often gets and takes the credit. Its license plate, “First in Flight,” while technically accurate, is misleading. The Wright brothers designed and built the first airplane in their bicycle shop here in Dayton, OH. For its first flight, they only shipped it to Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, because of the ideal, constant wind there was conducive for test flights. No, Ohio has a rightful claim for the first flight--had there been no Ohio, there’d been no North Carolina. Therefore, Ohio should have known better. Before reading the news article, something was nagging me about the license plate. I knew something was wrong. Suddenly, it hit me, the plane was headed in the wrong direction. How did I know? I have read quite a lot on the Wright brothers and the birth of flight. I’ve lived within a few miles of where the Wright brothers built that plane. Everywhere there are reminders of their invention. The National Museum of the US Airforce is located here. There and in other area museums I have often seen photos, later versions, or replicas of the first plane. Looking at these, one cannot but be impressed that the plane looks all backward front to back compared to a modern one. See, my knowing the plane was headed in the wrong direction came from being familiar with the history having read of the plane and seen the photos, actual later versions, and replicas of it. So much in America is headed in the wrong direction. So much in the home. So much in the church. So much in individuals’ lives. But too many folks are oblivious to it. How could they not see things are headed in the wrong direction? Why are Americans from the person on the street to the professor in the classroom to the legislator in Congress to the chief executive of our nation getting so many things so wrong? Why are they headed and heading things in the wrong direction? Why? They don’t know or ignore the history. Many leaders truly don’t know our country’s history. If they know any history about our country, it is a revisionist history, or, worse, a purposely contorted, narrative-driven spin on our history. If they knew the history, they’d head our country in a different direction. The same is true for the church. Too many of today’s church leaders and followers do not know the church’s history. And, I do not mean general church history through the centuries. I mean the history of its founding by Christ and the Apostles. I mean what is recounted in Scripture. No wonder churches are pointed in the wrong direction. Government, church, family, individuals, each of these are headed in the wrong direction because of not knowing the history. A government is headed towards socialism when history has shown it never works. Society is headed towards the demise of the nuclear family when history has shown this always destroys society. The church is heading towards pluralism-universalism, kingdom now-ism, social-issue orientation when history shows doing so has always led to its spiritual death. Individuals choose paths of greed, lust, selfishness, drugs, etc., when history is replete with anecdotal and aggregate data revealing the certain ruin and destruction from doing so. Worse than not knowing the history is knowing it but having the arrogance that “with me, things will be different.” I’m the anomaly. Socialism, although history shows it never has, would work if I and mine implemented it. The breakdown of the family has always led to the decay of society, but the society I conceive would be better if the family was replaced with government. Adultery, history has shown, has always been ruinous and destructive, but it will be different for me. So, what about our license plate? Our state officials once enlightened to the flying-in-the-wrong-direction plane simply shrugged their shoulders and said, “Oh, well. It looks right to us. The license plate looks really sharp. It would take too much time, money, and effort to change it,” and left it as it was. Of course, not. They fixed the mistake. They turned the plane around. Imagine, the Wright flyer left facing the wrong way. If in real-time, it would have overtaken the collapsing banner which wrapping itself around the plane would have become entangled in the plane’s engine, gears, and steering apparatus. It would have crashed! Heading in the wrong direction would have wrecked the plane. Whether your personal life or spiritual life, whether, church, home, or country, if headed in the wrong direction, there will be a crash. It’s time to turn this plane around. --Pastor Clifford Hurst
it’s not the division; it’s what’s between the two
Bro. Clifford Hurst 01/09/2022
Decades ago, a pastor encountering opposition, during a service, had all the folks who supported him to stand and those who didn’t to remain seated. It was an awkward silence as about half were standing and half were seated. Someone spoke up with a broken voice, “Pastor, you’ve just divided the church. You’ve divided families. You’ve divided homes.” Our nation's president has stood before us and divided us. He has divided nation, families, friends… He has divided us into two--the vaccinated and the unvaccinated. He did not just factually reference the division. He in tone, connotation, intent, and direct attack vitriolically and caustically with scolding voice designated the unvaccinated as villainous, ignorant, wicked. He didn’t just note that there is group A and group B. He said that group A was holy and good and that group B was unholy and evil. He did it in such a way, he put animosity, enmity, between the two groups. This, I do not bring up to rebuke the president nor to enter the fray over vaccine efficacy or government intrusion. I just could not escape an overwhelming awareness that our president is correct. There really are but two groups. And I am not referring to the vaccinated and unvaccinated. The whole dividing us into the vaccinated/unvaccinated debacle only reveals once again humanity’s default hypocrisy. You, I’m sure, have noticed how quickly politicians can change their views dependent on whether or not their party is in power. For example, when Republicans are in power, they inveigh against the filibuster and the Democrats praise it. When Democrats are in power, they inveigh against the filibuster and the Republicans praise it. Well, you know the thing. That’s something that occurred to me about this dividing the nation over the vaccination. Here are liberals, who, prior to CRT influences, were preaching we shouldn’t divide people into two groups like citizens and illegal immigrants, now dividing us into two groups. And then the conservatives, who normally preach we should divide between groups such as citizens and illegal immigrants, decrying that we are being divided between vaccinated and unvaccinated. Wherever one may stand on any issue of dividing folks into groups, the truth is all of humanity IS divided into two groups: Those who have eternal life and those who perish. Perhaps the most loved and familiar verse of the Bible, John 3:16, delineates this division: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Yes, there are only two groups. There is no neutral, middle road, third or fourth. Just two. Those who have eternal life and those that perish. Heaven bound. Hellbound. How sobering. Declaring the division is not itself divisive. It is how it is declared. First, no one who truly is in the category of those who have eternal life arrogantly and disdainfully ridicules those who perish—as the administration’s vaccinated have ridiculed the unvaccinated. They are not smug and prideful about belonging to the group that has eternal life. They are only grateful. Second, those who believe they are in the group possessing eternal life proclaim the division without trying to create animus between the groups. Yes, Jesus said the world would hate his disciples. But He did not say His disciples should hate the world back or try to get fellow disciples to hate the world. This is the real wrong of our president’s approach. He did not just note the two-group division of vaccinated and unvaccinated. He did so in a way to create animus and antipathy of the vaccinated for the unvaccinated. He blamed the unvaccinated for killing folks. How could that not create animus? He sainted the vaccinated and villainized the unvaccinated. No, those with eternal life only desire that those who perish would come to know Jesus and the eternal life, abundant life, He gives. God does not hate those that perish. He loves them. And the eternal life crowd does too. There are many other differences between the administration’s dividing between the vaccinated and unvaccinated and Christ followers dividing between those with eternal life and those who perish, but let me note one more: Unlike this administration’s machinations, those with eternal life do not try to coerce those who perish to convert. True believers would quickly and roundly condemn history’s Crusaders and Conquistadors who sought to force conversion by spear point. Belief in Jesus is a choice. We who belong to those with eternal life may seek to persuade, convince, and even plead, but, we do not try to force. Yes, there ARE only two groups. Rigidly so. Those with eternal life and those who perish. But we must not hate those that perish. We must have love and compassion for them. Any animus we have must be reserved for the one who deceives them, enslaves them, and seeks to keep them in his group, the group of those that perish. Whether or not folks should even be divided into two groups can divide folks into two groups: those who believe we should be divided into two and those who don’t. I can hear the cries of the pluralists screaming at we believers the charge of exclusivity. But, in their protestations, even they divide everyone between the pluralistic and the exclusivistic. Ironically, cries for not dividing only accentuate that there is a division. It is impossible not to divide between groups. What matters is what exists between the two. Jesus occupied the center cross, dividing between a believer and an unbeliever. The cross always divides between those two. Yet, at Calvary, there was no animus between the believer and unbeliever. Only Christ. He did not try to create antipathy between those two who were headed for two completely different destinations—Paradise and Gehenna. Between them, He only demonstrated love in the most painful and vividly graphic of ways. It’s not the division; it’s what’s between the two. --Pastor Clifford Hurst
don’t let can’t keep you from can
Bro. Clifford Hurst 01/02/2022
Writing this gives me the opportunity to trumpet about getting the latest Apple Watch as a gift for Christmas. One of its main features is the Fitness app. To try it out, one of my sons-in-law and I took a walk. Our conversation turned to how folks will with great anticipation, eagerness, and a good dose of bluster begin an exercise regime only to soon get discouraged and quit it. One of the reasons they get discouraged is that they have something get them off their exercise schedule, and they never get restarted. Walking is one of the few times I am talkative--not to myself, but on the phone or while walking with someone. I found myself blabbering on about an axiom I formulated to help me stick with something. This is the New Year and the time many begin new commitments to exercise, diet, hobby, renew church/worship involvement, begin spiritual disciplines, etc. I thought I’d share my axiom. It may be of no benefit to anyone else, but through many years it has helped me. Even recently, it assisted my getting back on track with something. It has also kept me on track with many other things. What is it? Simply this: “Don’t let when you can’t keep you from when you can.” People begin, let’s say, an exercise regimen. No, we’ll use that later. Let’s say a diet—though that’s a more dangerous illustration. The prospective dieter researches different diets, visits the grocery store for health items, studies nutrition charts, figures BMI goals, calculates calories to be consumed, cleans out the cupboards and refrigerators of junk food to eliminate temptation, makes a daily menu, etc. With the new year’s commencement, he begins and sticks with his dieting—consistently, every day. Then, his workplace has a banquet in conjunction with a required meeting. The dieter can’t very well bring his own lunch and sit there munching on spinach leaves and tofu noodles. How inconvenient and rude. So, he blows his diet on barbeque and cheesecake—and much more. Dieting has made him hungry. He consumes in one sitting a colossal number of calories, three days’ worth. The next morning, he is so discouraged over having blown his diet, he jettisons it and goes to the restaurant for a breakfast of biscuits and gravy and a tower of pancakes slathered with butter and drenched in syrup. Simply, he let the discouragement from when he couldn’t very well stick with his diet prevent him from keeping it the next day when he very well could. Five days a week I take a walk. If there is a stretch of consecutive days when it rains too hard to venture out for a walk, it is very difficult to go walking the day following the rainy ones. Sometimes a pastoral duty precludes my being able to walk that day. The next day it is much harder to take the walk. But I tell myself, “Don’t let when you can’t keep you from when you can.” I walk. This is true about so many things. You may renew a commitment to daily prayer and Bible reading before you go to work each day. Then there is a series of days when you miss that devotional time: One day the alarm doesn’t go off and, when you finally wake up, you have time only to make a mad rush for work. The day following you awaken with strep throat and can’t even get out of bed. Not for three days. Your daily schedule is blown. Along with your private devotions. Finally, you are well and back to a daily routine. Except for the devotions. You would begin them again, but it is so hard after not having done them in so long. Make no mistake; this is why so many have not returned to in-person worship at church after COVID shutdowns or illness. There was a time when they couldn’t come. That got them in the habit of not coming. It introduced them to the convenience of not going through the hassle of grooming and dressing and commuting to a place of worship. So, when they were recovered and/or the doors of the Church were thrown back wide open, they stayed at home. They let the times when they couldn’t attend keep them from the time that they could. If these would only say, “I won’t let when I can’t keep me from when I can.” I will not even bring up how many deem something a “can’t” when it is simply an “I-don’t-want-to.” Except, I just did. I almost didn’t write this weekly blog. I got knocked off schedule with the holidays and missed last week. I felt so unlike writing anything today that I was about to shut my computer and just skip this week. Then I heard a voice in my head say, “But you CAN write one today if you only would.” And that’s when I heard my axiom echo through my unwilling, uninspired head, “Don’t let when you can’t keep you from when you can.” So, I blogged this, “Don’t let when you can’t keep you from when you can.” I confess that was an easy way out. --Pastor Clifford Hurst
missing the star
Bro. Clifford Hurst 12/19/2021
Those with Ring are familiar with Neighbor Alerts. Someone in your proximity that also has a Ring door Doorbell can, when something unusual happens, post an alert on Ring, and it will notify all Ring owners around him. Really, more than a neighborhood watch network, it is more a modern equivalent to a neighborhood gossip network, the local grapevine. This week I received a notification in the night—one I did not look at until morning. A neighbor had sent a video captured by his Ring at his front door. I could hardly watch because I was offended by two things in his accompanying message: “Whos old lady is this.” First, there was the misspelled “whos.” It should be “whose.” Then there was the “old” describing lady. She appeared ten or more years younger than I. Though put off by the description, my curiosity was piqued enough to watch the video anyway. Ringing the alerter’s doorbell was a lady wrapped in a blanket. The vapor from her breath revealed how cold the night was. She fidgeted, shifting from one foot to the other, turning to look behind and around her, as she waited for someone to answer the door. The resident, if at home at the time, did not. Finally, she left. I scrolled down through the thread of comments beneath the clip. Neighbors (numbers have been changed to protect the innocent) messaged: Neighbor 1: “People are going around like this claiming they need help…when you open the door their partner in crime rushes you to rob you.” Neighbor 2: “She may be looking for help.” Neighbor 3: “Doesn’t appear to be in any distress.” Neighbor 4: “Call the police.” Neighbor 5: “She may need help.” There were more. Then, in the thread, there was this: Neighbor 9: “See the shooting star @ 1:19?” Shooting star? I hadn’t seen it. I re-watched the clip. There it was streaking across the sky! This homeowner’s front door Ring captures the horizon beyond the street. Over half of the view is skyline with a two-story house framing the right side and distant city’s lights dividing the street and its paralleled lawns from the night sky. As the woman gives up on anyone answering the door and walks away, there on the left side of the screen a shooting star can be seen blazing a trajectory across the dark sky. I am certain that other viewers of the clip had been like I; absorbed in the lady and what she was doing, I had totally missed the shooting star—something, if seen, is a sensational phenomenon to observe. How many people are so absorbed in the daily busy but humdrum activity of life or the personal dilemmas and difficulties that are right in front of them that they miss the phenomenal also happening in that moment’s frame? How many now? How many then? Once, long ago, God positioned a heavenly phenomenon in the sky. We could argue over exactly what it was, but it was extraordinary enough that it caught the astrologer/astronomers’ attention. Others may not have seen it; the Magi did. More probably, many did notice it, but a precursory glance was sufficient for them. They were too busy with life right in front of them to be curious or interested enough to contemplate much less investigate the star God had lit and hung in the sky. They saw but did not follow. The magi did. They not only noticed, but they also fixed their observant interest on it. They also followed it. It led them to Christ. Looking beyond the immediate, seemingly urgent and demanding they saw the star. Interested they investigated, and, following, they found. They found the Messiah, the Prince of Peace, the Life-changer, the Life-giver. The star led them to Jesus the Savior. Even today, many never see beyond the foreground activity demanding their attention. Their lives are absorbed in what is immediately before them, in their view--the fidgeting woman, not the star. The temporal gets noticed but not the eternal. The material but not the spiritual. The pressing, not the prescient. The extemporaneous, not the lasting. The prosaic, not the phenomenal. The chaotic, not the Christ. The problem, not the Prince of Peace. It is no different during this current Christmas season than when the star appeared in the Magi’s time--only we now have the One to whom the star led them! The One called the Daystar. He’s no fleeting shooting star or temporary Wisemen’s star. He’s the risen, forever Star. Will you and I see beyond the seasonal celebratory activity happening all around us to notice Him? Will you arouse others to notice Him asking, “Did you see the Daystar? There is much happening in our world that is disturbing, troubling. We ask, “What is happening? What is going on?" Yet, with all those questions, we can yet see the star. As another neighbor responded to the alert, “I don’t know who the lady is but the star is neat!,” I don’t know or understand all that is happening in our world, but the Star is really neat! Don’t miss it. --Pastor Clifford Hurst
truth is a tree
Bro. Clifford Hurst 12/12/2021
Every day I think about words. I must. I must think about them to exegete a text. I must think about them when I think about how to best communicate a sermon derived from that text. I must think about them when I blog. I must think about them when I am writing about thinking about them. It’s not that I must think about them, I enjoy thinking about them. Learning Greek compelled me to think of where words came from, their roots (their etymology). This is one of the most interesting things about words—where they come from. For example, “God is not mocked, for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” (Gal. 6:7). “Mocked.” Imagine my surprise, when as a student doing research, I discovered the root of the word for mocked meant “to stick the nose up at.” Mock’s primary root comes from “snout” and bellowing, snorting, mooing through it. “God is not mocked.” One does not do wrong and then haughtily, defiantly, stick his nose in the air deigning God, sneering at His commands, boasting he can do what he wishes and get by with it. What a picture: One’s nose turned up at God like a snob’s nose at one whom he deems inferior and can treat as he wishes. Words were invented. Shakespeare invented over 1,700 new ones. In the end, in the beginning words came from life. People used what they saw, heard, experienced in life to come up with descriptions for new things, ideas, and experiences. That is why the rocket that breaks free of the earth’s gravity to traverse through space is called a spaceship. Ship. Previously, ships were the vessels that plied the waves of our oceans. Words were invented and then repurposed. And repurposed again. But still, however far removed from them, their roots flavored the words’ meanings. To understand a word’s root(s) is to see the word as one has never seen it, to understand it like he’s never understood it. It is to see the word in color, in 3-D, alive. Speaking of roots makes me think of a tree. Not a tree’s roots, but “tree” as the root of a word one might never guess. Tree is the root word for truth! Wow! How? Folks were trying to come up with a word that would describe the concept of “truth.” They thought of “tree.” We are compelled by the seeming incoherency to ask, Why? What does a “tree” have to do with “truth”? Although this root linguistically reaches back in time further than the English, I’ll start there. In old English, tree was treow and truth was treow. How is a tree related to truth? Centuries ago, people saw a mature, stately tree standing tall, straight up. Straight up day after day, year after year. Straight up, unbent, unbowed despite storms, strong winds, heavy snows. Straight up from earth to sky. Straight up and solid. Straight up compared to the crooked, the bent, the skewed, the awry. The tree spoke to them of steadfastness which spoke to them of trustworthiness. The standing straight up of the tree not only spoke of trustworthiness but, later, of accuracy. Thus, the connection between trustworthiness and accuracy. Truth, in essence, means faithful to reality. Something true is accurate because it corresponds with, is faithful to, reality. Steadfast. Straight. Solid. Reliable to reality. Trustworthily accurate. And there is one more thing about trees. Their longevity. The tree in a village was steadfast, faithful, trustworthy because it had also been there when one’s great grandfather was a child--and when one’s great grandfather’s great grandfather was a child. There are trees living today that were already mature when the word tree was first used for truth over 1,500 years ago. In the USA there is a California Bristlecone Pine that is over 5,000 years old. Truth like a tree remains though generations come and go, ideas come and go, fashions come and go, kings come and go…Truth, like a tree, still stands. Our western society used to embrace trees—and I’m not talking about embracing them like environmental whackos. I mean it believed in absolute truths that were unchanging despite changing times, conditions, etc. Truths that were straight, that could be used as a reliable measure in life. In this post-modernistic society, there are no trees. Just bent over trampled on blades of grass, every changing truth, my truth--your truth, true-today-not-tomorrow truths, etc. In fact, to today’s society, truth is more like a tumbleweed. Give me tree truth. Absolute truth. Unchanging truth. Reliable truth. Straight up truth. It is more than fitting our word for truth comes from the word tree. For truth really does exist as a tree. The greatest history-changing, life-changing, eternity-changing, truth is found in a tree. The cross. The cross is often called “tree” having been hewn from one. That tree, the one planted on Calvary, speaks the truth about humanity’s condition, humanity’s sin and rebellion, the truth about Jesus and who He is, the truth about how God dealt with our sins, the truth about God’s love for us, the truth about eternal life in Paradise, the truth about forgiveness, the truth about the defeat of darkness, evil, and Satan, the truth about victory over death. Nothing has spoken as much truth as a tree. And everything the tree spoke was capitalized, punctuated, emboldened, and underlined with the subsequent empty tomb. Well, there’s the truth about truth. Truth is a tree. --Pastor Hurst
kurios: you can't call yourself your pet's owner
Bro. Clifford Hurst 11/28/2021
When I finished guffawing, I grew reflective, then sad, and thought, “No more Kurios.” I was listening to an episode of a YouTube channel to which I subscribe, and the monologist was talking about his dog. He was surmising what his dog “thinks about his owner.” An off-camera crewmember facetiously interrupted with, “You can’t say ‘owner’ anymore.” The corrected elocutionist looking into the camera responded, “Oh, that’s right. I forgot. You can’t call yourself your pet’s owner anymore. PETA has said it's derogatory to your pet. You are supposed to call yourself your pet’s companion.” I was laughing at the ridiculousness of such offense taken on behalf of animals. But, as I began to reflect on this new impermissible expression of our language, I first noted how a dog’s owner was once also called the dog’s master. The two were hand-in-glove synonyms. For much of human history owners of land, resources, businesses, animals, etc., were masters. My sadness came when I realize that the same mindset that does not want to call a human a pet’s master also does not want to call God a human’s master. Post-modernity humanity, where it has not gotten rid of the idea of God altogether, has been quite successful in demoting God from master to friend, buddy, man upstairs—anything down on humanity’s level. (The whole driving force behind the promulgation of the evolutionary theory to explain existence is to get rid of God, for, if a man has no God, he has no master.) Humanity has elevated animals up to its own level by demoting humans from animals’ masters to companions (which they also are). All this about a master is where the Kurios comes in. Clearly, all slavery, servile-feudalism, etc.—any relationship where one human owns another is reprehensible and flagrantly immoral. Yet, for much of human history, as also reflected in Bible culture, such relationships existed. People were owned. And those who owned them were masters. (There were master-servant relationships, not in the mode of what is called to mind by American slavery, that were not inherently evil.) The Biblical word for master was Kurios. God is called Kurios. As is Jesus. Kurios. Lord. Master. Although one human owning another and, thus, being his master is evil, the same is not true with God. God owns us. He created us. He gave us life. He gives us each breath we breathe. God also owns us in another way. He purchased us. With His own Son’s blood. As our owner, God is our master, our Kurios. Yes, the modern mentality that insists that one not call himself his dog’s owner may on the surface stem from the love of pets, treating them like children and grandchildren, etc, but at a deeper level, it is part and parcel with the desire to erase the idea of God as our master. This, folks do not want to acknowledge. The Apostle Paul makes clear God is our owner. “You are not your own. You’ve been bought with a price.” As owner, God is Lord and Master (Not to be confused with the KJV “master” which at the time of translation was the word for “teacher.”) A Kurios is a master, one with complete authority over another. In the end, all this about ownership is about not wanting to acknowledge, surrender to, and bow to God’s authority. Paul was not only quick to call Jesus Kurios but to call himself doulos, a slave, of Jesus. One day, every human will bow and acknowledge this Kurios—doulos relationship with God. Those who do it this side of the grave, this side of the coming of Christ, will be eternally saved. Those who wait until the other side will be eternally lost. I don’t have a dog to call myself its owner and master. But I do have a God to call Owner and Master. Unabashedly. He is Lord! Kurios! By the way, something else might be said of those reluctant to call themselves their pet’s owner. It’s Freudian. It’s that, truth be told, their animal owns them. :) --Pastor Clifford Hurst
thankful for a dirty diaper
Bro. Clifford Hurst 11/21/2021
The tale of Russian master spy Oleg Gordievsky’s escape from the Soviet Union is absolutely riveting. No one escaped the Soviets with the KGB on their tail. Oleg did. And he can thank a dirty diaper. Oleg had been working as a double agent for the British MI-6. He was betrayed by the infamous American double agent, Aldrich Ames. Ames had relayed to the KGB a list of their agents working with the MI-6 and America’s CIA. Oleg’s name was on it. Oleg had been posted in London to the Soviet embassy. The KGB, list in hand, recalled Oleg. They had his name but had not yet assembled enough evidence to try and execute such a high-level officer. Thus, though they’d drugged and questioned him, they had not yet detained him. They did watch his every move. But, the MI-6 had devised an escape plan that everyone thought could not possibly work. In the end, it did. But only because of a dirty diaper. The plan entailed embassy officials and two embassy vehicles. Two couples would take a trip to Finland, ostensibly because one of the wives had injured her back, a faked injury which she with Academy-Award acting demonstrated for sake of KGB surveillance. As a ploy to involve the other couple and a second car, the doctor’s appointment in Finland was used as an excuse to go on a recreational excursion-shopping spree in Helsinki. The other couple had a baby, Florence, whom they took with them to make the trip look like a two-family outing. That’s where the dirty diaper (or nappy as the British call it) comes in. Just before reaching the Finnish border, the two diplomatic cars abruptly pulled into a turnout to have a “picnic”—at least they brought the fixings for one in case the KGB caught up. It was at this wooded off-road parking they were to pick up Oleg who was hiding there. The story of his masterfully escaping his assigned KGB surveillance and making his way to this rendezvous is harrowingly suspenseful but our story is about how a dirty diaper saved him. Before the KGB cars following the two British ones caught up, Oleg had been put into the back of the trunk of one of the cars and hidden by luggage. The trunk had hardly been closed and the cars back on the road when the KGB tailing them appeared. In the trunk, Oleg struggled out of his clothes and wrapped himself in a provided aluminum blanket which would supposedly keep border guards’ and KGB officers’ infra-devices from picking up his body heat while examining the vehicles at the border crossing checkpoints. There were five such checkpoints established between Russia and Soviet-friendly Finland that the two cars would have to smuggle Oleg through. Five. Five searches. At one of these, the KGB came within a hair’s breadth of discovering Oleg. Or, I should say, the KGB came within a dirty diaper’s length of finding him. KGB officers watching, a border guard was eying the embassy car. With his dog, he began to circle the vehicle. The searchers were so close Oleg inside could hear Russian voices. The dog began to show interest in the trunk. At that very moment, Florence fortuitously filled her diaper. Her mother, Mrs. Ascot, immediately picked her up, grabbed the diaper bag, and laid Florence out on the lid of the trunk, and began to change her diaper. As she opened the diaper, the stench filled the air. The dog began sniffing and the guard wrinkled his nose at its unpleasantness. Assuming the dog was only reacting to the fetid, foul odor of the diaper, the guard pulled at its leash and with the KGB officers following walked away to distance himself from the smell. Florence got her dirty diaper changed, and Oleg was saved. The British were given back their papers and once back in their vehicles, waved through the gate. Never had anything in the spycraft's, intelligence’s, or escapees’ arsenal worked as well. Arguably, no weapon in espionage had ever been as effective as a dirty diaper. Who would have thought that something as disagreeable, unpleasant, unwelcomed as a dirty diaper could result in such a good outcome? We often encounter dirty diapers in our lives. Things come that are just as disagreeable, unpleasant, unwelcomed, and far, far, more serious. Yet, if we’ve paid attention, we have discovered as Joseph did long ago, that God uses even evil done to and against us to accomplish good in our lives. We have learned that all things work together for good to them that love God. We have learned to in all things give thanks. As Oleg, we can give thanks for even a dirty diaper. Delivered by a dirty diaper. In 2015 on the thirtieth anniversary of his escape, all those who helped him gathered to celebrate with Oleg. They gave him a satchel containing souvenirs and mementos of his escape. Among them was a baby’s diaper. I wonder, if during our celebration of making it to heaven, when we review all the great things God has done for us to get us there, if we won’t see some of our toughest times as memorials of how He helped, rescued, and delivered us? Might we give thanks for a “dirty diaper” or two? --Pastor Clifford Hurst
what the crunch of crispy leaves says
Bro. Clifford Hurst 11/07/2021
It is one of the most recognizable sounds in the repertoire of one’s audio memory; at least for those who live in climates with distinctly marked seasonal change. What? The sound of fallen autumn leaves crunching under one’s feet. On my daily walk this past week the leaves were as crisp as the air. Earbuds in, podcast blaring, I was walking briskly through our plat. Up ahead I could see the accumulation of fallen leaves across the sidewalk and the lawn through which it passed creating a retroactive, multi-colored shadow of the tree. When I began walking on those leaves, even above the sound from earbuds, I could hear that distinct cadenced sound of crunching leaves underfoot. Immediately, with no search for it, I was inundated with a memory from fifty years past. I was a ten-year-old walking home from elementary school. Ironically, though my school was ten blocks away, each way my two siblings and I walked past a closed school but one block from our house. It was walking past that shutdown school that the sound of crunching leaves impressed that indelible memory within me. Parallel to the sidewalk along the schoolyard was a rock retainer wall. The leaves from the trees lining our street, once fallen, piled thickly against it. That day, wading through those leaves, hearing them crunch underfoot caused a feeling of elevation, a sort of thrill, to well up in me. Why? At the time I probably would have only answered, “Because it’s Fall!” And left it there. But on reflection, beyond autumn being my favorite time of year, I think that the crunching leaves signaled welcomed change: The brutal heat of an Oklahoma summer was over. Rabbit hunting season—going with my grandfather and father was my favorite thing—was opening. Thanksgiving and Christmas were on the horizon. Snow, another thing I loved, was coming. Yes, the sound of crisp, crunching, colorful leaves underfoot heralded anticipated coming change. Younger folks usually with open arms welcome change. Change can mean diversion, fresh starts, new adventures, escape, etc. However, stereotypically, as we age, we grow to dislike change. I have. I do. Why do older folks resist and feel aversion to change? I think it is because comfort is paramount for us older folk and change is a threat to comfort. Sameness is comfortable. Change rocks the boat. Change is disturbing—literally and psychologically. We have things just the way we like them. Also, we’ve learned, change is often painful. So many changes, arising from crises, separations, losses, betrayals, etc., are negative. Yet, despite my increasing displeasure of change, I still look forward to the change that autumn brings, a change of which crunching leaves under step are a harbinger. I do not think I could tolerate living in a clime without distinct seasonal changes. Time would travel along in bland, slow monotony. Yes, I believe I have reached the bell curve of one in life first welcoming change and then coming to disdain change and beginning once again to welcome it. My walk through crunching leaves this week caused me again to yearn for change. There is no escaping the things that bring the negative change—those crises, catastrophes, betrayals, abandonments, etc. We dread those, praying they’ll never come. But there are some positive changes to anticipate as well. Ever since humanity messed up this world with sin, there has been a longing for it to be changed back to the perfection to which God created it. Paul says the whole creation groans for this change including we born-again mortals who desire this coming change even for our bodies. (Romans 8:21-23). Here’s our Christian hope. That change is coming! Ironically, an unchanging God gives us hope of anticipated change. The OT Job expresses the hope of a coming change: “If a man die, shall he live again? all the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come.” (Job 14:14). The NT Apostle Paul gives voice to a promised coming change: “Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.” (1Co 15:51-52). Are you beleaguered? Embattled? Weary? Bored? Discouraged? Hurting? Take a walk. Step on crispy leaves. Listen to the cadence of crunching leaves. For every four steps you take you will hear, “Change is com-ing. Change is com-ing! Change is com-ing!” --Pastor Clifford Hurst
"jesus will open it"
Bro. Clifford Hurst 10/31/2021
In the bright sunshine, the view of the Ozark hillsides and valley below was refreshingly beautiful, yet a certain sadness hung in the air; the panorama I enjoyed was from the vantage of a hilltop cemetery. The meeting my wife and I had traveled to attend was in a town near this cemetery where her mother had been interred last year. She wanted to visit the grave. We had barely unloaded our luggage at our daughter’s home where we would be staying, when we got back into our SUV with one of our grandsons, a four-year-old. He was thrilled to be going somewhere with Grandpa and Grandma. But, as we traveled the gravel, country roads, he had a thousand questions when he learned we were going to Gigi’s grave at the cemetery in the country where, my wife reminded him, we had buried her. Gigi is what our grandchildren had called their great-grandmother. I have been preaching the Gospel for 42 plus years, have taught in Bible College, and am seminary trained. But this four-year-old asked questions about death, the resurrection, the coming of Christ, that stumped me and made me temporarily think I needed to revise my theology. We arrived at the cemetery. I parked in the lane at its edge next to the old barbed wire fence that marked its boundary with an adjacent pasture. Gigi’s grave was in the last row abutting the lane. Out of our vehicle and at her grave, our grandson never stopped asking questions. He was trying to process how Gigi was down there in the ground yet in heaven with Jesus at the same time. I gave up on eschatological solutions and just let my wife try to answer. Weary with our journey and tired of standing, I opened the back hatch of our SUV. It was just steps from the grave. I sat on the back bumper of our vehicle enjoying the cool breeze, bright sun, and vista before me as I continued to watch and listen to my grandson. As he interrogated his grandmother, he began to move his hands all over the memorial tombstone feeling its edges and engravings of its letters. With visibly insatiable curiosity, he knelt and with his hands examined where its bottom edge joined the ground. He even felt the still sparsely grassed turf that covered the grave. My wife finally stopped mid-attempted-answer with a question of her own, “What are you trying to do?” Before he even answered, it hit me of what his actions were reminding me. They reminded me of a detective in an Edwardian era manor’s library seeking among the books and along the edges of a bookshelf to find the secret latch for a hidden room. He answered, “I’m trying to open it. I’ll let Gigi out.” My wife began to try to convince him that it would be impossible for him to open the grave. Finally, he stopped his search for the secret lock or latch. Shaking his head in an affirmative nod he proclaimed, “When Jesus comes, He will open it. He will let her out.” Forgetting neatly packaged theology, I felt a thrill at his prophetic declaration. Jesus IS coming, and He WILL open it and let her out. That is the Gospel in a nutshell. Jesus comes. Jesus opens. Jesus lets out. At the visit to the synagogue that inaugurated His ministry on earth, Jesus proclaimed, “I am come to set the captive free, to open the prison door, to set at liberty them that are bruised.” That’s just what Jesus does. He opens the prisons of people’s sins and lets their captive souls out into the freedom of forgiveness, redemption, and salvation. And for those whose souls He has set free in this life, though they die and are buried, He will one day open the graves and reunite their souls and their bodies. He will once again open up their prison and let them out. My grandson, convinced of the futility of his efforts and the hope of his wise proclamation, became quiet and still. My wife was kneeling, gazing at her mother’s memorial stone. Our grandson went to her, sat on the ground beside her, and put his hand on hers to comfort her and joined his gaze with hers. It seemed to me that he and my wife were peering past the granite and the sorrow into the distance to a future day when Jesus would come and “open it.“ --Pastor Clifford Hurst
however incrementally, however slowly
Bro. Clifford Hurst 10/03/2021
Recently, our nations’ founders, the documents they authored, and the nation they established have been demeaningly labeled as racist. Many who so malign the USA point to indisputable truths such as the majority, around three quarters, of the writers of the Declaration of Independence and around one half of the writers of the Constitution being slave owners. This is enough for many today to condemn the founders of our country and accuse them as a racist lot. Some time back I listened to a historian ponder something I too had mulled: The thing more astonishing than many of America’s founders espousing and writing documents declaring freedom yet owning slaves is that many of these slave-owner founders made great sacrifices, some even giving their lives, fighting for the liberty of all. They owned slaves but fought for freedom for all folks. In defense of the founders, it is not enough simply to state the obvious: They were a product of their times. No, the anomaly of promulgaters of liberty being slave owners cries out for explanation. To me, there are two general explanations: Hypocrisy or Development. The founders were either bold hypocrites to espouse liberty for all and yet own slaves, or the founders (along with the nation they founded) were experiencing, instigating, and involved in development towards liberty for all. Development is a process that happens by degrees. Some were indisputably hypocrites whether they recognized or ever acknowledged it. But, overall, the founders and the nation they founded were developing. However incrementally. However slowly. It is a lie our nation was founded in racism and, thus, by nature is racist. Though some of the founders and future citizens were racist, our nation was founded on principles that ensured that over time it would grow and develop into a place where there was liberty for all. Freedom for all was inherent, boldly woven into the fabric of the documents and the nation they founded—and the founders were the weavers. Many of the writers were aware that, though concessions were made to encourage slave-holding states to join the union, they were writing documents that would over time, as the nation developed and grew, result in liberty for all its citizens. But before I get too far into that, let me return to this proposition: What the founders did as a group or as individuals was either hypocrisy or development. The same charge of “hypocrisy” is often made when Christians do not live up to the Truth and standards they espouse. Make no mistake. Some Christians are hypocrites. They say they believe the Truth as set forth in the Word, they say they believe in the Gospel, but their lives are completely out of kilter with that Truth. Other Christians truly do believe and seek to measure up to those things set down by Scripture, yet, their lives fall short, many times drastically so. They are not hypocrites. They are developing. They are undergoing a process of transformation. They are being, as we used to say, and Scripture still labels it, being sanctified. However incrementally. However slowly. Thus, whether nation or church or individual Christian the standard used to judge should not be perfection but direction. Something, not perfect but headed in the right direction is developing. The founding of our nation was not perfect. The founders themselves were not. Yet, the direction they plotted and routed in their founding documents, the direction of their desire and intent was the direction of freedom for all. And, that is the direction our nation has progressively gone, despite set-backs, and pitfalls. Though still not perfect, our nation enjoys more freedom for more people of any nation in the world today or in history. Whatever the racism of some at its founding, whatever problems it has since had, it was founded on principles that assured its development into freedom for all. However incrementally. However slowly. Many have the same problem with what they read in the Bible, particularly the Old Testament. Cynical skeptics point out that God’s people whose lives are chronicled in Scripture owned slaves (actually servants), practiced polygamy, oppressed women, etc. Some of the charges are not true. But some are: Abraham married a half-sister. Jacob was a polygamist. Jonah was a blatant racist. Etc. Theirs was not a perfect world. They were not perfect people. Yet, they had responded to God’s call. God began with them wherever He found them and whatever shape they were in and moved them in the right direction. They followed. He called them out of their native corrupt culture and began a process of making and developing them into what He would have them be as individuals and as a people. However incrementally. However slowly. This truth has solidified into a word of encouragement that I have often given to folks who believe they have messed up too badly, are too far entangled and embedded in a godless lifestyle, and have strayed too far. I say to them, “God does not start with us where we SHOULD be or COULD be. God starts with us where we are right here, right now—if we only turn repentantly to Him.” I also follow with, “And, He can take us from right here, right now, to where we should and could be.” He moves us in the right direction. He develops us. However incrementally. However slowly. This truth of not being perfect, not living up to the ideal but of being headed in the right direction, being in the process of development, helps both encourage and warn us. Personally, I believe that our nation has made a U-turn in its progression in the direction of liberty. It has turned in the direction of socialism, the suppression of individual liberties, and the animosity towards the free practice of religion. Those who espouse this direction ARE hypocrites to speak of liberty. Their tirades, machinations, philosophies are NOT continuing the development to a “more perfect union” with liberty and just for all. They have turned our nation in a direction of the declension of liberty and the destruction of our nation—and not incrementally, not slowly! One may not be perfect but he can be headed the right direction. One may not be perfect but his life need not be one of hypocrisy but development: And, wherever you are at right here, right now, God can take you from right here, right now, to where you should and could be. However, incrementally. However, slowly. --Pastor Clifford Hurst
Bro. Clifford Hurst 09/26/2021
As crises do, the debacle of the U.S.’s botched pull-out of Afghanistan has introduced a new metaphor into common parlance: Over-the-horizon. Seeking to ameliorate and quieten the growing criticism of and alarm over our no longer having personnel, boots-on-the-ground, to deal with terrorism or to ensure the safety of stranded Americans and our allies, our president attempted to assure us that America would deal with emerging terrorist threats with “over-the-horizon” capabilities (drones, missiles, airstrikes, etc.). Before momentarily getting a bit tedious with this, indulge me to remind you that what I’m really after, intending, is to make an encouraging spiritual point. There is both an offensive and defensive need for boots-on-the-ground: If terrorists are using a location in Afghanistan as a base to plan, train for, and launch a terrorist attack, only boots-on-the-ground can provide the necessary reconnaissance, obtain the accurate coordinates, etc., needed to take the terrorists out and abort their malevolent designs. Boots-on-the-ground is also needed to locate, protect, and guide to safety those Americans and allies who have been stranded. Yet, since occupation in perpetuity is untenable, “over-the-horizon” capabilities are essential to combat terrorism and protect our allies. However, the very reason over-the-horizon capabilities are essential is also a reason that with Afghanistan they by themselves are effectually insufficient: Afghanistan is landlocked and surrounded by nations either openly hostile or none too friendly with Americans. Over-the-horizon capabilities are great--if they are not too far over-the-horizon. With no seaports nearby, ships cannot get very close to the Taliban-held country. With no cooperating parameter countries, no airbase allows planes to be just over-the-horizon. In reality, America has very anemic over-the-horizon capabilities to deal with the Taliban in Afghanistan. The best scenario both to obliterate a growing threat of an attack and to facilitate the protection of our compatriots and allies is to have both boots-on-the-ground (however small a contingency that may be, i.e., special forces) and over-the-horizon capabilities. Spiritually, we believers live in a hostile world. We have enemies both seen and unseen that would attack us. We have enemies that would seek to prevent our getting out of this world and to our true country of origin—heaven. We are “landlocked,” surrounded by all that is inimical to our faith and existence. Yet, we must realize we have both over-the-horizon and boots-on-the-ground help and protection. Heaven may seem distant, but it is a more than adequate base from which we receive over-the-horizon assistance. We may seem grossly outnumbered, but God always has His boots-on-the-ground special forces to show up to help us. One of the detriments of over-the-horizon help is inaccurate or changing information of the coordinates of the enemy’s or friend’s location. That was the reason for the recent tragic loss of lives during a drone attack in Afghanistan. But heaven always has accurate coordinates on where a believer is. Another detriment is the over-the-horizon base’s being too far distant to get help in time to a friend or to stop an enemy. Help sent from heaven travels faster than the fastest jet, drone, or missile; faster than the speed of light. A distress signal/message is sent to and received at the over-the-horizon base. The base responds. When we pray, we send out a distress signal to our over-the-horizon help—heaven. Heaven immediately picks it up. Heaven responds. Sometimes heaven activates and deploys forces stationed there. Sometimes heaven activates boots-on-the-ground. Say a Christian is distressed with depression. He prays. God can send help over the horizon from heaven. He can send a specific word straight to the person’s heart, special healing, etc. But He may speak to a friend’s, family member’s, or minister’s, heart and send them with a word. The warehouses and barracks of heaven are full of forces and resources that God can deploy from over-the-horizon. But God can also deploy special forces on the ground. Either way, God has both unseen and seen, heaven originated or earth originated, angelic or human, agents and help to deploy. I know some people get freakily carried away with angels. But they are real. Scripture has said that the angels in heaven keep vigilant eyes on the individuals they are assigned to watch. Scripture declares God has given those who behold His face in heaven, angels, charge over we believers. That is the over-the-horizon help. They see from heaven a believer’s dilemma and heaven responds from over-the-horizon. But there are also times God deploys these angels and sends them in, boots-on-the-ground. He sends them to minister to His people. Even human help may come from “over-the-horizon” or from boots-on-the-ground. A distressed missionary eight time zones away may awaken to an encouraging email from a believer he has never met but upon whose heart God has impressed that the missionary needs prayer for encouragement. Or, God may send a national that lives two shanties down to that missionary with a word of encouragement. Yes, God has angels in heaven watching and on earth assisting; however, most usually, God uses people to help people. He has people everywhere, boots-on-the-ground close by, ready, to help someone in distress. When COVID has barred loved ones from visiting, God has a caring nurse who, with great kindness, not only ministers to the physical needs of an ailing, aged resident in the nursing home but also encourages that one’s soul with gentle words. When the pastor can’t get into the hospital to pray for a parishioner, God has a doctor that asks if he can pray with his patient, before the frightening procedure. He has a co-worker who notices. He has an elder at church who will cross the sanctuary. He has a Sunday School teacher, a day school teacher, a relative, a neighbor, a pastor. His special forces are embedded everywhere among us. Forces nearby He can activate. He also has over-the horizon capabilities. A family is struggling to pay a medical bill. An anonymous letter from the other side of the nation arrives with a money order of the amount it needs. A distant friend not seen in years texts out of nowhere the very word one needs to hear. A family member five states away phones. Sadly and tragically, neither boots-on-the-ground nor over-the-horizon help is working in Afghanistan. But, when we are in need or under attack, God knows our coordinates. God can send help from over-the-horizon or activate boots-on-the-ground. Or both. I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel so stranded or landlocked or outnumbered after all. --Pastor Clifford Hurst
why christians must be credible
Bro. Clifford Hurst 09/12/2021
Almost, it happened to me. I have often been consternated, perplexed, and exasperated that so many Christians seemingly have an attraction to and proclivity for conspiracy theories. Then, I recently read a book purporting a conspiracy theory of JFK’s assassination. This author gave list after list of enumerated “facts” that proved it. His lists were, on their face, overwhelming evidence. I found myself saying, “I’m convinced.” But, as factual as the items of the lists seemed, something kept bothering me. It was only minutes ago, while responding to a post promulgating a false doctrine, that I realized what it was. The post-er of the false doctrine began by declaring what he believed and then giving a long list of apparent facts of Scripture that proved his point. Reading through the list, I realized what both the author of the JFK conspiracy theory and the aspiring theologian were doing. I can best explain it with an analogy. Note the fallacy of what I am doing in the following scenario: I post, “All mammals are white.” I then give my list of “facts.” 1. “Here is an un-doctored photo of a white mouse”—which I post. 2. “and a photo of a white elephant.” 3. “ and a photo of a white squirrel.” I enumerate and post twenty-five photos of white mammals. I have overwhelmingly proved my point. Or, have I? What bothered me about the JFK conspiracy theorist*, wasn’t that I doubted his “facts” but that he presented them as if they were uncontested and as if there were no answering, rebuttal evidence. The would-be theologian listed Bible “facts” but out of context, without essential qualifications, admittance of other valid interpretations, etc. My photos of the white mouse, elephant, squirrel, etc., could all be genuine. But the truth is white mammals, for the most part, are anomalies. For every photo of a white squirrel, there are thousands of grey, red, and black ones. I advise neither taking or not taking the COVID vaccine. But here is what I have heard from many Christians: “I will not take the COVID vaccine because the data is not all in and it has not been proved in studies that it is safe long term.” Then, without question, based on anecdotal evidence they take Ivermectin without the data being all in or studies proving it is safe in the long run. Ivermectin may work. That would be great. That’s not the point. The point is the inconsistency of reasoning. I won’t take medicine X because it has not been proved by studies, yet, I will take medicine Y which has not been proved by studies. Of course, you can give me stories, “evidence” of how John Buck and Jane Doe were healed of COVID by Ivermectin. But, until unbiased studies by aggregate data have verified Ivermectin works, you are just showing photos of a white squirrel and saying all mammals are white. Theories must be proved. Distrust of government-funded “science,” I get. I understand the alarm of government intrusion into our privacy. I concur with the alarm at the government dictating what should or shouldn’t be done with and to my body. I am offended by the President’s scolding and incriminating me for not having had the vaccine. But strong reactionary feelings are unreliable in ascertaining what is true or not true. Those going by strong reactionary emotions most often gravitate to and utilize anecdotal evidence. Anecdotal evidence is unreliable. What is anecdotal evidence? It is my showing photos of white mammals as proof all mammals are white. Just because the mouse in the photo was white doesn’t mean most mice are white. Just because a self-prescribed treatment seemed to work and to be safe for Jane Doe doesn’t mean it will work and be safe for others. For decades my mother-in-law was a fervent believer in ingesting barley green as a panacea and preventer of all illnesses of the body. Barley green would keep her healthy. Every morning she would pour a glass of orange juice and mix in her barley green. I loved to tease her. “You swear by the barley green that it makes you healthy. But you always take it in your orange juice. How do you know it’s not the orange juice that makes you healthy?” Only a controlled study with a sufficient number of participants, some drinking just orange juice, some taking only barley green, and some drinking only water could ascertain if barley green, orange juice, a combination of the two, or neither makes one healthy. When I hear a conspiracy theory, I almost always find myself asking its promoter: “How? Just how did they pull that off? How did they get by with that? How? One of the early theories I heard circulating to discourage taking the vaccine was that every shot introduced a computer chip into the recipient--a computer chip the government was going to use to track and monitor folks, and the Antichrist would use as his mark. A doctor chatting with me said, “How do they do that? Every vial of vaccine contains five doses for five different people. How do they sort, introduce, and specify those chips to five different people?” Arguing with conspiracists, you can’t win. If you offer a debunking item of evidence, then that item itself becomes a conspiracy. For example, using my analogy, if you disagree that all mammals are white and say, “Here, look! Here are photos of a grey mouse, a grey squirrel, a grey elephant, the conspiracist will say, “Of course! Those photos were taken by the government.” Or, “Those rascally government workers took the white mice and painted them grey.” “But, oh,” you parry, “studies show that the grey comes from a specific genetic marker.” Then, the response is “That’s because they altered the genes of the white mouse. The grey color is not natural. It’s artificial.” “They. They. They.” It is always an anonymous “they.” But, I don’t have space to chase that rabbit—white one, or not. I am neither promoting the vaccine or disavowing Ivermectin. I am highly suspicious of a government-funded, government-controlled “science.” I believe there is a deep state and other entities that are engaged in Machiavellian machinations. I believe our world is rushing towards a global government that will one day be ruled by the Antichrist. I believe there will be a “mark of the Beast.” I believe there IS a conspiracy going on—Satan is pulling strings, pushing buttons, and powering his pawns. But I also believe that Christians should be all about Truth. When we champion the unproved, the unsubstantiated, the unreasonable, the irrational, we deeply damage our credibility with a world that needs to hear the Gospel. Why should the unconverted believe the Gospel we share after it has seen our posts, read our tirades, the bulk of which are, at their worst demonstratively not true and, at their best, unsubstantiated. God says, “Come now, let us reason together.” And, we believe He is being reasonable because of His track record of speaking the truth. May it be the same with us believers. May we have a track record of posting, sharing, promulgating things that are true in everyday life, so, when we, as Paul, “reason of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come” people will believe we are telling the truth; so, when we share the Truth of the Gospel, those who need it most will find us credible. --Pastor Clifford Hurst *I’m reserving the right to change my mind on the JFK conspiracy.
Bro. Clifford Hurst 09/05/2021
Lately, a fragment of an old hymn has been stuck in my thoughts looping in my head: "Bring your empty earthen vessels…come you needy one and all." EMPTY! Have you ever just felt empty? Drained. Nothing in the tank to run on. Nothing in the account to draw from? Nothing in the jug to pour out. Have you ever honestly admitted, "I feel so empty"? It's not a good feeling. When one is empty, he does not feel he can take on one more task much less do what is already required of him. When one is empty, he cannot enjoy what he should enjoy. When one is empty, he cannot engage others in a meaningful way. Strangely, when one is empty, he pours out on others anger, frustration, and venom. He is so full of his emptiness that it spills over in all he says and does. The oxymoron is intended--full of emptiness. I marvel at how one can feel so empty and yet be so full of hurt, bitterness, disappointment, depression. There are things that can turn your life and heart upside down and drain you of your dreams, delights, desires, and even your determinations. An empty heart is like an empty wallet. You have a bill to pay, someone's need you want to meet, and offering you want to give, but the wallet's empty. There is nothing there to pay the bill, meet a need, give an offering. You have the desire. You want to do right. You want to be helpful. You're just empty. That's one kind of emptiness. The kind where you still have the want to, the desire to, you just have nothing to. A worse kind of emptiness is an ennui emptiness. (Ennui is the word the Church Fathers used to describe a spiritual condition.) This is an emptiness so empty there is no want to, no desire to, remaining. You've lost all enthusiasm and even interest. The pond is not only empty of water, the mud of its bed is all dried up and cracked too. The tank was empty, you’ve been running on fumes and, now, even the fumes are all gone. Emptiness inescapably feels like worthlessness. Your life has served no purpose. You've made no difference. Emptiness also feels like one is on the back slope of his life's zenith, sliding downwards. Emptiness feels like one has come to the end of his usefulness, his influence. his life—even if he is young. All that said, perhaps, being empty isn't all bad. You cannot fill something already full. If you are empty, you are, for example, in better shape than the one full of himself, full of his own ways. As I customarily do—a practice that, I’m sure, can be faulted--I have gone to great lengths to describe a problem for which I will in short length offer a solution. Yet, think of this justifying analogy: You or your doctor can enumerate a long list of symptoms of what ails you. The answer to all those symptoms can be expressed with one word--the name of the remedying medication to be prescribed. To all our emptiness there is one answer. Jesus. He is the only One who can fill that emptiness. At the start of His ministry when Jesus attended a wedding, He said of the vessels whose emptiness was causing quite the upset and perplexity, "Fill them…". So, despite the danger of oversimplifying, to those who know, feel, and are living the emptiness I described above, let me just quote a little more of the fragment of the earworm song stuck in my head: HE WILL FILL your heart today to overflowing, As the Lord commandeth you, “Bring your vessels, not a few.” HE WILL fill your heart today to overflowing With the Holy Ghost and pow’r. And, now, let me just conclude with this wish/prayer of Paul's as recorded in Scripture. Now the God of hope FILL you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost. (Rom 15:13) That is a prayer we can take as a promise. Empty? The God of hope will fill you with all joy and peace in believing so you will no longer be empty but overflow with hope as you burst with the fullness of the Holy Spirit's empowerment. Maybe being empty is not so bad after all. It allows you to be filled. ---Pastor Clifford Hurst
a skyline without steeples
Bro. Clifford Hurst 08/22/2021
Recently, driving through the mountains of Maryland, I was moved by the beauty of church steeples in the picturesque towns. It was the steeples that made the towns picturesque. Seeing them reminded me of the below that I wrote several years back. I wrote it, not to talk about the architecture and aesthetics of steeples, but as a metaphor for the growing godlessness of our beloved country. Many things have toppled the steeples of our land, but, I’m afraid, metaphorically, that, when it is all said and done, we will find that COVID has razed more steeples from the horizon of America in a shorter time than anything else. The steeples may disappear, but the God to whom they point still lives, still sits on the throne of heaven, and is still in control: For an anniversary my wife and I stayed on an upper floor of a hotel that rose high above the tree line that flanked the nearby river. That evening of a crisp, cold, and clear day, as the sun was setting, I went out onto the balcony of our room. The panoramic view was awe-inspiring. The skyline all around was a mixture of the shimmering river, the rolling, wooded hills, bricked streets, rising sky-scrappers, and churches. Churches. That is what struck me most—the beauty of church steeples. In every direction, rising above the trees and buildings around them or framed by sky-scrapers they were nestled within were the turrets, towers, and steeples of churches. Their upper reaches were accentuated by the bright blues, yellows, and oranges of the evening horizon. After slowly pivoting around and studying each in the tapestry of the large city panorama, a thought struck me: What would this skyline be without those steeples? I looked at the skyline again and tried to imagine all of the churches, their turrets and steeples photoshopped out. I shook my head and said to myself. "It just wouldn't be the same." It would be so bland. There would be no break in the mass of buildings, the canopy of trees, or reflection on the waters. Then, a further thought, a disturbing one, hit me: How much longer before it will be a reality? How much longer before one could go out on the balcony of a hotel of a large city and look out over its skyline and see not a steeple or tower of a church? In a time-lapse photo slide show of the historic growth of that city, the skyline without church steeples would be the final frame capturing the total secularization of American society and life. How many of those churches, I wondered, surveying the vista again, are already abandoned for lack of worshippers? How many already have been repurposed as something other than church? What about the landscape of government, home, school, entertainment? Metaphorically speaking, the steeples, turrets, and towers have already been deleted from them. Realistically, many steeples and the churches below them will remain for decades and longer. If nothing else, they will be preserved as historic buildings, though they very likely will no longer house a gathering of believers. Yet, metaphorically, the steeples of Christianity are being rapidly severed, lopped off. I would like to blame a godless, secular, anti-Christian society; or government; or educational system. But, in the end, it is not the humanistic, godless, post-modernist society that has taken the wrecking ball to the steeples. It is those who gather or once gathered in them. Through their abandonment of holding and proclaiming the Truth, their negligence to be the Church, their conformity to the society around them, they have taken the wrecking ball to their own steeples. No, I cannot imagine a skyline without steeples. I cannot imagine a world without steeples—steeples rising high, pointing up, creating a vanishing point toward heaven, pointing ever to God. Yet, the most important steeple of all is that in and of a person’s life—that steeple is a heart whose affection, attention, desires, reach up constantly to God. Where are the steeples on the horizon? Where are the steeples of the heart? --Pastor Clifford Hurst
i felt victory enter the room
Bro. Clifford Hurst 08/15/2021
Death is beautiful, the literary genius Oscar Wilde would have us believe. It’s not. Death is ugly. Death is uglier than its harbingers such as disease, catastrophes, war, violent crime, injuries. Death is hideously foul. Some have said death is a friend when it comes and takes the suffering, terminally ill. Not so. I understand the sentiment: The arrival of death sometimes ends the horrific suffering that every added minute of living would only prolong. But, no one calls cancer that precipitated that death “a friend.” Death is a member of the malevolent gang of Cancer and his associate symptoms that have attacked and ravaged the terminally ill. Death is just the last one of that gang to deliver his finishing blow. No, Death is no friend--ever. Death is a thief. Death is a heartless evictor. Death is a thug. Death is, well, a murderer. In the words of scripture, Death is an enemy. When Death comes, he comes with the airs of an invading conqueror assured by the rate of his success—he always has his way, overcomes his victim, and succeeds in his deed. Death is victorious—but, only apparently so. Over decades of pastoring, I’ve often been in the room when Death arrived. I’ve seen his ugliness, sensed his blackness, felt his evil, witnessed the destruction that follows his assault. Each time he’s come and finished his foray, he’s succeeded. He’s left his victim ravaged, inert, and vanquished; and loved ones crushed, devasted, hurting, grieving. Yes, I’ve been there when the enemy Death has come. But, there’s something else. See, Death isn’t the only one I’ve experienced enter the room. In the early years of my pastorate, I had been called to Hospice. The wife of one of our elderly members, stricken with cancer, was imminently about to pass. Even in the dim lights, the awful ravages of the disease upon its sufferer were evident. The family and I encircled the bed and prayed, quoted Psalm 23, and maybe sang. Moments later, I felt the entrance of a cold shadow darker than those cast by the room’s lusterless light. I knew that Death, the enemy, had come. He paused momentarily in a distant corner of the room close to the ceiling, but the darkness there could not hide his ugliness, his meanness, his blackness. Then he swopped down upon the sufferer struggling to breathe. Death delivered his blow with relish, stealing, killing, and destroying. Yet, inexplicably, at that moment, into the gloomy dimness of the room, heavy with the awful evidence of the disease, the sadness of the weeping of the family, the silence from the conspicuous absence of the departed’s breathing, I felt something else arrive more prevalently than Death. I cannot explain how—not in that atmosphere, not in those circumstances, not with such hurt and loss. But I did. I felt what only one word can possibly describe--Victory. I felt Victory enter the room. Death had come. Nothing or none could arrest his coming. Defeat was the inevitable outcome of any effort to resist his marauding, murderous attack. Yet, I suddenly felt Victory. How? Why? I said above it was unexplainable. That’s not really accurate. See, the one who’d just passed was a believer in Jesus Christ. That’s why Victory came into the room. Jesus had Himself previously met up with Death. And it wasn’t Death that was left standing. It was Jesus. Jesus defeated Death. And Grave while He was at it. When in that hospice room I experienced Death enter only to have Victory follow him, that wasn’t the first time Victory followed Death. Death came to Jesus on the cross. Death accompanied Jesus to the tomb and set about securing Him there. But Victory followed Death into the sepulcher. And only one came out. Victory. Jesus rose from the dead. He who is the Resurrection resurrected and defeated Death. Resurrection is the Victory over Death. If Jesus defeated Death, why does Death keep showing up? Why does Death apparently win? The Apostle Paul said the last enemy to be destroyed is death. This does not mean Jesus has not already defeated death. His empty tomb testifies He has. It means that we have not yet realized, experienced this victory and will not until we too are resurrected. Until that time, Paul says, Jesus is reigning and will do so until the Death He’s defeated, will be put under Him. Paul goes on to explain this will happen at the resurrection of those who have died trusting Christ. Yesterday at the graveside service of one of our departed saints, I read a portion of the chapter (1 Cor 15) in which Paul elucidates the above. I read his declarative announcement of Death’s defeat, “Death is swallowed up in Victory.” I read on as Paul proceeds to taunt defeated Death, “O Death, where is your sting, O, Grave, where is your victory.” I read on as Paul gives thanks for that coming Victory and identifies from where it comes: “Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Yes, Death may barge into the room. If so, Victory will follow. Victory’s coming. And Victory, not Death, is a beautiful thing. --Pastor Clifford Hurst
don't just settle
Bro. Clifford Hurst 08/08/2021
“Don’t just settle.” This I have found myself often admonishing during counsel. The marriageable young lady is dating a young man of questionable relationship with Christ, sub-par work ethic, and evident narcissistic behavior; thinking she may never have another chance at being a bride, she begins to feel urgently inclined to accept his proposition of marriage. She asks my wife and me what we think. Among other things we say, “Don’t just settle.” A couple needs a vehicle. They’ve found one that seems like a good deal, but there are some indications of things not being just right with it; yet, tired of looking around and needing a vehicle, they’ve just about talked themselves into purchasing it. My opinion is asked. Pointing out some red flags about the vehicle, I urge, “Don’t get in a hurry. Check it out better. Don’t just settle.” Another is seeking a position of work or ministry—a position that is a fit for his gifts, skills, education, goals, desires, etc. The only position currently offered is one that is not a match for any of these. “Should I take it,” he asks. Again, I find myself saying, “Don’t just settle.” Most simply, just settling is accepting less. Settling is letting go of expectations, dreams, beliefs, values, goals, etc., and accepting something less. Often, this happens when one has a deflated view of himself, his abilities, potential, resources, and prospects, and an inflated view of the adversaries, obstructions, and interferences against his having, obtaining, achieving what would be the best, the more fitting and fulfilling. Often, just settling is fueled by believing one is out of options, opportunities, and time. Believing this, he gives up expectations, promises, dreams, aspirations, whose fulfillment may still lie in his future and just settles for whatever is in his present. He settles. He acquiesces, “This is just what I am; I cannot change. Things will never be any different; I will just have to live with this. Nothing better will ever come along; I better just resign myself to this is the way things will be.” Settling is a surrender that says, “I cannot be any more than I am, do any more than I do, have any more than I have.” To settle for less is to wave the white flag accepting the inferior, mediocre, second-rate, inadequate as inevitable. This is one reason I have an aversion to the ubiquitous, go-to, and hackneyed cliché, “It is what it is.” Often, that is the expression of one just settling. Arguably, COVID has drastically affected the visible Church. But the Church does not have to settle for an emaciated, decimated, de-moralized new existence. It must not. The Church must not settle for being anything less than the Spirit-filled, Gospel-preaching, life-changing Church, the kind Jesus founded and left when He ascended—the kind of Church He is coming back for. For many Christians, not worshiping in-person but only watching live stream has become inveterate and, thus, to them the new norm. Others are resigned that they will never be a witness for Christ or used by the Spirit. There are temptations, many have concluded, they will never overcome. They must accept their foibles, failures, and faults as permanent. No! The Christian must not settle for anything less than transformation, empowerment, and sanctification. He must not settle for anything less than being fully engaged in worship, fellowship, and sharing the Gospel with others. He must not settle for stagnation in place of progression. He must not settle for anything less than victory. One unsaved has become convinced his sins cannot be forgiven, that his heart is unconvertible. He has been told or has convinced himself that God can’t or either won’t save him. He will die unprepared for eternity. The unsaved must not settle for thinking he must be lost. He must not settle for believing he cannot believe. He must not settle for anything less than forgiveness, hope, joy, peace, and assurance of eternal life that Christ can and will give him. Sometimes this “settling” thing comes up when bartering over an item being sold. Recently, I sold a garden tiller on Facebook Marketplace. I had listed it with the price I expected. Minutes after posting it, potential buyers were messaging me; some asked, “Will you settle for less?” We must not settle for less than what God has for us, will do in and through us, and can make us. Not as individuals. Not as a church. Unwilling to settle for less, some sellers, to preclude even being asked, include with their list price “firm.” Firm means, “I will not take, I will not settle for less.” Less is not an option. Our time is a unique time for Church and Christian. It is a time to be firm. It is a time, not to settle for less. I find myself saying it again (to myself as well as.) “Don’t just settle.”
danger: no sense of smell
Bro. Clifford Hurst 08/01/2021
As of this writing, I have smelled basically nothing in well over three weeks. Nothing. Nada. You’ve already concluded why--COVID. Pre-virus, I had an extraordinarily acute sense of smell—which was generally a blessing but at times a curse. I have found my loss of smell upsetting--I cannot taste my food; disheartening—I cannot be awakened by the aroma of anticipated morning coffee; life-changing—I no longer see a need to bathe since I seem never to stink (just joking on this one); and even depressing—I begin to think, whatever the reassurances from virus veterans, that I will never regain my sense of smell. But until reading an article in the newspaper two days ago, I never thought of the loss of smell as being dangerous. I should have. Something was bugging me when I spilled gasoline on my clothes while filling my lawnmower’s tank. I kept thinking, “I can’t smell gasoline.” That pestered my subconscious, but I soon forgot about it as I concentrated on mowing. The spilled gasoline came back to me when I read the article. The point the reporter made was that the loss of smell from COVID was dangerous and could be life-threatening for those who lived alone. Those with COVID-affected anosmia cannot smell natural gas, or, I might add, smoke. Therefore, their home could have a major natural gas leak or have a hidden smoldering fire, and they would never know it. Inability to smell could be disastrous. Yes, losing one’s sense of smell can be a very dangerous thing. As I contemplated this reality, it occurred to me that too many Christians have or are losing their sense of smell. Before elucidating that thought, let me share something else that bothers me—pouring spoiled milk on my cereal. I’m one of those who fastidiously seeks to avoid ever tasting spoiled milk. So, I’ve developed a habit of de-capping the milk jug each morning and sniffing to see if it has gone bad before pouring it over my cereal. The expiration date can be three weeks in the future, and I’m still going to sniff before partaking. People also sniff for natural gas leaks, smoke, and many other things. Thus, a metaphor has emerged in our common vernacular. We speak of performing a smell test. A smell test is an effort to determine if something is genuine, ethical, believable, etc. Without a sense of smell, I cannot do a smell test on the milk. Many Christians today never do a smell test. They accept into their lives, partake in their worship, gulp down from their teachers, consume from new books, things that would have been repugnant to the Apostles, the first Christians, etc. It never crosses their mind to do a smell test to ascertain if these things are God-pleasing, doctrinally sound, or spiritually edifying. For most, it would be pointless for them to do a smell test. Why? They have lost their sense of smell. Something could doctrinally stink of humanism, occultism, new ageism, pseudo-psychology, and post-modernity, and they would never detect it. They have no sense of smell. They have lost what gives them a sense of smell. I have no sense of smell because the coronavirus has severed the supporting cells to my olfactory neurons which send messages to my brain. My sense of smell comes from these olfactory neurons and their supporting cells. Analogously, the Word of God, the Bible, is the olfactory neurons and supporting cells of the Christian, church, movement, and denomination. In so many cases being no longer inculcated with the Word, no longer consulting the Word, no longer immersing in the Word, and no longer venerating the Word as an authority for belief and living, much of American Christianity has a damaged olfactory system. Without the olfactory, there is no smell. Without smell, there is no smell test. As I can no longer determine if the milk is spoiled, too many Christians can no longer tell if what they are hearing, seeing, reading, is spoiled or not. What I mean is they have lost their discernment. They no longer can differentiate between truth and falsehood. Many Christians can no longer tell whether something is genuine, believe-worthy, correct, or even moral. The olfactory neurons, what cause smell, are simply not there. The Word of God is simply not there. In wide-swath of American Christianity, how-to, motivational, and story-time sermons have replaced preaching the Word. It’s worse than that. The Bible is no longer seen as the final authority for belief, worship, and living. With no ingrained Word in their worldview, thinking, or processing, Christians have lost their sense of discernment. They cannot tell when the milk is spoiled. They gulp down the spoiled milk of elements of other religions, faddish culture, false doctrine, and non-Christian thinking, all the time insisting it is fresh, wonderful, the greatest thing ever. But, there is hope. Just prior to reading the news article, I had told my family, “I am trying to remember how things I’m eating smell. Maybe this will trigger its return.” Encouragingly, the article confirmed that there are things one can do to regain his smell. One thing is to take sniff food items with strong odors. This could forge new olfactory neuron paths. This is also the way Christians can regain their sense of smell, their discernment. Return to the Word. Return to Truth. Return to daily consumption of the Word. Return to Biblical preaching and teaching. Partake of it. Take it in. Ingest it. Soon, the sense of discernment will return. A new book, a new form of worship, a new charismatic orator, a new teaching, a new movement will appear. Christians will do the smell test. They will smell the gasoline in the clothes with which the charlatan garbs his teaching. They will smell the smoke from the hidden smoldering false doctrine. They will smell the spoiled-ness of the milk behind the glamour, lights, faddishness. They will smell the danger. And, they will thank God, their sense of smell has returned—as, I pray, mine soon does. Pastor Clifford Hurst
when god makes the way of escape
Bro. Clifford Hurst 07/04/2021
Below I have retold one of my favorite stories of the Revolutionary war. Previously, I shared this story on the day of one of our church’s Annual Freedom Services to thank God for His providential hand in the founding of our country; however, this time I share it because I kept thinking of this Scripture: “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” (1Co 10:13). “God…will…make a way of escape.” No doubt, some are currently enmeshed in awful trials and tests, in the worst of circumstances and under the fierce sustained attack of the enemy. It appears defeat is inevitably imminent. But, God has promised to make a way of escape. Take heart from this story from the war that won us the freedoms we celebrate today: It was the first great battle of the Revolutionary War; it was also a crushing defeat for our rag-tag Continental army. General Washington with his troops had retreated and were in a dire predicament: They were trapped with the town of Brooklyn and the British army in front of them and the East River to their backs. Both armies were waiting for the wind to change from the northeast—one with horror and the other with anticipation of finishing off these rebels of the Empire. When the wind changed, the British warships would be able to sail up the river and bombard the Continental soldiers into oblivion or total surrender. Had that happened, we would not be celebrating freedom today. There simply would be no United States of America. But, the wind did not stop blowing. The conditions worsened with the skies growing ever darker, the temperature plunging, and the rains falling. An assessment of the situation concluded that, if our army stayed put, annihilation was yet inevitable. The only possible but improbable option for the Continental army was to retreat over the East River to Manhattan Island. If the storm lifted during the retreat, the British army on its front would notice and immediately attack, destroying our colonial army as the British ships moved up behind closing off any attempt of escape. The colonies would revert to the rule of tyranny. Even as the next day dawned, the storm continued. All that day in inclement conditions, arrangements were made for escape. Boats were collected. The time came to begin the retreat across the river. At that very moment, the rain stopped and the winds died making escape possible. Under the cover of the darkness of night, the hodgepodge flotilla of small overloaded boats began ferrying the many soldiers over the river. The boatmen worked feverishly all night, but there were just so many soldiers. By daybreak, when the British would have been able to observe the retreat and attack, a huge part of the army was still stranded on the Brooklyn shore. But, just as the night that had concealed them was lifting, a heavy fog fell upon them. It was as difficult to see in the morning as it had been in the night. Even as the sun climbed higher and higher and should have burned off the fog, the fog held on, enshrouding the retreat. Amazingly, just a short distance on the other side of the East River where the Continental troops were disembarking on the bank of New York, less than a mile away, there was no fog. The sun was brightly shining. Just minutes after the last of America’s troops had escaped from Brooklyn and marched into New York, the fog lifted. The red-coated enemy could be clearly seen on the opposite shore surprised and disappointed that all the Continentals had escaped to fight another day. Nine thousand American troops escaped without the loss of even one life. It is very difficult not to see a Providential orchestration of their escape, and, consequently, of the freedom of the United States. It simply wouldn’t have happened without Divine intervention. Likewise, none by their own ability or efforts walks away from the bondage of sin, Satan, and this world. God, through Christ’s work, orchestrates the escape. For those who trust Christ, God also orchestrates the escape from trials and temptations. With God, the escape isn’t so much a short-cut chute. It’s not Mario or Luigi facing a long stretch of attacking enemies and obstacles but is directed by a player to a secret door through which he can go and escape what was ahead. The escape in the Mario game is a bypass of what is ahead. The escape God makes is a way out; but it’s not so much a take-you-out so you don’t have to face trouble but a take-you-through-and bring-you-out-the-other-side. It is not that, as believer, you find yourself walking a dark, arduous path through a deep valley when God taps you on the shoulder, points to the sheer cliff wall along the path and pushes His finger through it enabling you to step through the opening and find yourself suddenly on a mountain top in bright sunlight. With God, many times it’s more like this: Though you may have to walk the whole length of the valley, suffer the whole life of the disease, fight a continuing battle, God will bring you out the other end. You will escape the valley. You will, in the end, come out victorious. God is faithful! God made an escape for the Continental Army. He will make one for you too. Pastor Clifford Hurst
my dad
Bro. Clifford Hurst 06/20/2021
Today is the first time in thirty years I will not follow preaching a Father’s Day sermon with a phone call to my dad—oh, wait, twenty-nine years; last year he was yet living but unable to talk on the phone. Knowing I will not be making that call makes the celebration of the day and my preaching a sermon for it quite a different thing. My father passed away last August. I shared a eulogy at his memorial service. For thirty years, each week, I have written an entry (which, sometime back at folk’s suggestion, I began to share on social media) for the Pastor’s Pen space of our church’s Sunday bulletin. For today, having nothing else relevant to surface above the ache of missing my dad, I’ve shared a mostly unabridged copy of my eulogy of him, Allen E. Hurst: Yesterday morning Sandra and I walked west from my parents’ home to uptown Shawnee; we walked up 10th St., then through Woodland Park, back down 10th street, and then over to the Santa Fe Depot. I had often taken that walk with Dad when I was home to visit. At every building, every edifice, every street corner, the bridge, the creek, the railroad tracks, Dad would have a story to tell, a memory to share, a historical note to make. Not counting two very short hiatuses, one at the beginning of marriage and the other at the end of life, Dad lived his whole eighty-eight years never moving more than a half a block as the crow flies. He was born at home on 9th St., raised three houses down on McKinley, and lived the rest of his life in the house on Harrison St., whose lot adjoined the backyard of the house where he was raised. But, on Sunday, close to 5 p.m., he made a move, the biggest move he ever made. He moved to his mansion in the House of the Lord on Heaven’s Boulevard in the Celestial City. Dad wasn’t famous. But he was just what this world needs--a moral, hard-working provider and producer--and a faithful Christian. Among our earliest memories of Dad are of him reading the Bible to us and praying with us before we went to bed at night. From a child, I believed Dad to be a man of faith. I was deathly ill once. He prayed for me, and I immediately fell asleep awakening the next morning completely well. Dad had to get up early for work—while it was still dark. What times I had to get up to go to the bathroom, I would see Dad in the living room either reading his Bible or knelt down to pray before work. He was always a person of prayer until it came time to eat. His advice then was, “It’s time to eat. Pray short. If you need to pray through, you can do that some other time.” Few, even preachers, knew the Bible as well as Dad. He had read it over and over, cover to cover. Pre-disease Dad was a quiet, mild, gentle man. Yet, he was a man of inalterable principles, unflagging devotion to duty, and unerring common sense and wisdom. As we were raised, he said and did a thousand things that built character into us. Let me just share a few examples of this: We were never late for anything. We would sit in the car in front of church way before it started, ready to go inside when other folks started getting there. “Always be early. It isn’t right ever to keep someone waiting.” I guess we didn’t keep God waiting. When I was a really young child, just starting to color, he would not allow me to turn the page until I had finished coloring that picture. “Always finish what you start.” Then there were those axioms he restated over and over: “If you turn it on, turn it off. If you got it out, put it up.” “It’s not how much money you make. It’s how you manage what you make.” Yes, he was a wise man with the wisest reflections on and advice for life. However, sometimes he showed a lapse of wisdom--like when he got Mom a paint scraper for her birthday. Dad’s chief concern in life was to provide for his family. After I was grown, he told me his greatest fear in life was that he would be able to get us children raised. He did. He took care of those not in the family too. He was always making something for someone. He was continually helping widows of the church repairing things gone wrong with their houses, etc. Once, Dad had a mentally disabled neighbor whose only means of transportation was a bicycle. It was always breaking down. Dad was always repairing it—even after the neighbor moved across town. Dad never believed he was very smart—he was always self-deprecating of his intelligence—Over and over he’d say, “I’m a dummy--I can’t spell.” Yet, he could repair or make anything mechanical. He could do any carpentry, electrical, or plumbing work. When Tinker Air Force base got CNC machines, Dad wanted to be, not only an operator but also a programmer. He borrowed my college trigonometry book and taught himself all about sines, cosines, tangents, and the rest. He soon was programing using up to five axes. He submitted many suggestions and designs concerning aircraft and repairing them that were accepted and adopted—and awarded with cash bonuses. Here are a few things even family members may not have known: Despite being shy, Dad used to lead songs and give youth talks in church. I’ve read his notes of these. Some of them were blistering. He was also a good artist. He could sketch things very realistically. Something he was especially proud of--he was the champion ice cream and watermelon eater in his unit at Tinker. I don’t know if I have any other fans of my ministry, but I know, if I do, that Dad was my biggest fan. We will be throwing out tons of cassettes and CDs of my preaching that he listened to over and over again, saving each one. Soon after I declared I was called to preach, he came back into my bedroom with a list of scriptures. He said, “Called to preach, huh? These will help you preach. If you are really called to preach, you will memorize them.” I did. To this day, I still quote them while preaching. He would bug me incessantly to do the necessary work to get my ordination until I did. He always had this sense of humor: When I was first called to preach, I asked him once, “What about this fasting, Dad.” He replied, “Tried that once. Got hungry. Didn’t like it.” Of all the memories, the one, I think, that reminds me most of his love for me was when he took off from work when I was sixteen to take me to get my driver’s license—in his 1946 Willys Jeep. He had taught us to drive with it. He’d said, “If you learn to drive this stick shift, you will be able to drive anything.” Afterward, we loaded up the dogs in that jeep and went rabbit hunting until the sun set. I still vividly remember that sunset, that day, that Dad. One image that is indelibly branded on my mind and heart is of Dad worshipping the Lord. During altar time, there by the piano, at the edge of the platform, one of us boys on either side, he would lift up his hands, tears running down his cheeks praising Jesus, and soon he was speaking in tongues and shouting, “glory”. Those times were the few times when I saw Dad truly experiencing freedom and joy. It is into that joy, unending joy, unmitigated joy, that he entered Sunday: “Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.” (Psa 16:11). This is where he is. This is what he is experiencing. Right now
down deep, they don’t want you to change
Bro. Clifford Hurst 06/13/2021
The brother was obviously upset. “Pastor, I’m not trying to be a crybaby, but it’s getting almost unbearable. My coworkers, including my boss, are giving me a horrible time for my being a Christian. They mock me as being a ‘holier-than-thou’ for not laughing at their jokes, make fun of me for reading my Bible during breaks, bombard me with comments about all Christians being hypocrites, wreck my workplace when I leave….” I tried to encourage this brother with, “Well, at least they aren’t throwing you to the lions in the Coliseum, burning you at the stake, exiling you to Patmos.” No, I didn’t say that. With whatever else I said trying to encourage him, I did say this, “Brother, here’s the irony: If you were to change, give up your faith and become like them, they would be highly disappointed. Down deep, they really don’t want you to change.” I went on to explain that despite all their harassment, they could see the difference between his life and theirs. Theirs, despite all their hoopla and bravado, was a life of disappointment, failure, hopelessness, meaninglessness, etc. Seeing his life, they could see that, just perhaps, there was something that could give them hope of help, purpose, and meaning. No, those hecklers at his workplace really don’t want him to change and would be greatly disappointed if he did. They were glad for the difference, however convicting of their own lives it might be. I knew I was right when I recently listened to a debate between a Christian and an atheist. What a shock I got. The moderator, knowing the atheist had once been a Christian in the Church, asked the atheist something like, “I can see you greatly disagree with the Church. What about the Church would you like to see it change?” The atheist, Douglas Murray, replied (I paraphrase from memory), “I don’t want it to change. Even though I’m now outside the church, I’m an atheist, it deeply upsets and bothers me that the Church is changing and becoming something other than the Church. It particularly bothers me that the Church no longer preaches the Gospel about humanity’s problem being sin and there being salvation only through Jesus Christ.” He was bothered by the Church’s becoming, in so many places, engaged as an agent of political activism and/or social justice—although he is an advocate for social justice. Whatever reasons he holds or shares for this sentiment, the reality he saw is this: When the Church becomes chiefly about political activism and social justice (as contemporarily defined), it will pollute, dilute, and ultimately jettison the truth of the Gospel. It becomes just another social club, social justice proponent, or political activist group. Jesus left His disciples with two mandates: A Commission to fulfill and a Compassion to demonstrate. The Commission, “go into all the world and preach the Gospel.” The Compassion, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these (the naked, the hungry, the imprisoned), ye have done it unto me.” The Commission is a command. The Compassion is a commendation (or, if not done, a condemnation). The Church should be responsively compassionate to the needs of those in society--but, not to the neglect of sharing the Gospel. And the Church should actively preach the Gospel, but not to the ignoring of the real-life needs of suffering people. Too many churches today have stopped preaching the Gospel in order to be relevant to and engaged with contemporary society by espousing, endorsing, and engaging in social justice causes. Others have lost their distinct identity as Gospel proclaimers by merging with and becoming political activists. Their jingoism is anything but evangelism. Down deep, I think there are many in the unbelieving masses who are disappointed by this. They may not have realized it, codified it with thought, articulated it, or conceded it, but they sense that, if the Church changes and no longer shares the Gospel, there is no help, hope, or meaning for anyone, themselves included. If the Church is just like them, the Church and, by association, God, has nothing to offer. The Church may protest that it does preach the Gospel. But, when it is rabidly shouting loyalty of a political candidate, championing him with unbridled enthusiasm across the public forums and in the streets, society does not hear the measured, muted, unenthusiastic whisperings about Jesus from its pulpits within its sanctuary’s walls. When the Church is marching locked-stepped with stomping feet and exuberant shouts with proponents of social change, the lost world cannot hear the Church’s tiptoeing into its gathering place for benign, whispered worship. Basically, I had told the harried Christian that he should take the verbal attacks at his workplace as a compliment. Down deep his coworkers were glad he was different. His difference spoke of hope. Conversely, when society, political party, praises the Church for being so engaged, so relevant, so supportive of its causes, that’s not a compliment. That is a condemnation. If honest, down deep, the unbelieving don’t want a Church just like them. There’s no hope in that. Any harassment over your faith, if it is indeed that, is a great compliment. It says the Gospel is getting through. That’s something they really don’t want you to change. --Pastor Clifford Hurst
bypassing the burn barrel
Bro,. Clifford Hurst 06/06/2021
Today, Thursday, was the day after the termination of our statewide mask mandate. When I opened our local paper on my tablet, I was greeted with a large photo on the front page of women gathered around a burn barrel throwing their face masks into the fire. They look determined, joyful, and free all at the same time. The accompanying article noted a range of emotions from reluctance and caution to joy were stirred by the end of the mandate. Apparently, the mask burners in the photo experienced the joy. A local pub hosted this mask burning. It provided the barrel and the fire and encourage patrons to throw their masks into the flames to symbolize the end of a tough year. The photo of masks being tossed into the burn barrel from the hands of those whose faces were filled with joy and freedom reminded me of our doing something similar at my home church when I was a teenager. No, it wasn’t masks we burned, and, though it may have appeared so to passers-by, we weren’t a cult. We had been experiencing a real move of the Spirit among our youth that increased our passion for spiritual things and our devotion to Christ. There was even a spontaneous outbreak of the Spirit in our teen Sunday School class; there was no teaching that day nor sleeping during class. We wept, shouted, and worshiped Christ the hour long. During this time of revival, we gathered before church to pray, and when service time came, we spilled into the sanctuary from the prayer room worshiping God; the service got no further with its usual activities. With such a spiritual renewal there comes a desire to be rid of anything and everything that pulls one to the world and sin, that binds and fetters the soul, that drains, dampens, depletes one’s love for Christ. So, one night, I cannot remember who suggested it or prepared for it, but outside the church, a burn barrel was set up. We gathered around and threw in anything that had been a worldly or carnal influence on our souls—things like 8-tracks and records of worldly music. There was real joy and freedom felt as we sang and worshiped around the burn barrel. Such a thing was not original to us. Scripture provided a precedent. The book of Acts chronicles a great, supernatural spiritual stirring in Ephesus when the Gospel came to that town in the early days of Christianity. Many, practitioners of magic and other Occult worshipers among them, came to know Christ. These brought books and other paraphernalia associated with their occultic and divination practices and worship and threw them in the fire. The thing about dropping something in a burn barrel is that there is no going back. That thing will be burned up, gone. You cannot reclaim it. It is irrecoverably incinerated. You can’t get it back. This isn’t true of just throwing an item away. Early in my pastorate, a young man rededicated his life to Christ and threw in the trash stacks of CDs of worldly music that had been a part of his rebellion against God and rejection of faith. Later, his mother told me, “I dug them out of the trash and stored them in closet in case he backslides. He spent tons of money on those.” He did backslide, as his mother expected, and, perhaps, his doing so was precipitated by her lack of faith in and support of his commitment. He recovered his CDs. He could not have done so if he'd burned them. See, a burn barrel is about a no-turning-back surrender. Surrender is giving something up. Of course, the items we dropped into the burn barrel were only symbols of the thing we were really surrendering to Christ—ourselves, our hearts, our lives, our future, our passions and our lusts. The older I get, the longer I’m in ministry, the more I realize this is the real objection people have with God. They do not want to surrender. True salvation requires surrender. This explains so much. This is why some who were raised to know Christ strike out with such vitriol against their upbringing, against church, against God. They have to make the aforementioned bad to discount the message that salvation is through the surrender of self to God. I do not claim there has been no false teaching, no hypocrites in the church, or no cultic churches. But, those are exceptions. Not all the churches, people, teaching, and practices in them were errant and malicious. No. That’s not what this vitriol is about. This is about discrediting the dissimulators of the Gospel, in order to dismiss the Gospel. The Gospel calls for surrender through denouncing of self and acceptance of the truth. The same is true with 99% of the proliferating new atheists. Today it’s vogue to be atheist. Why? Being an atheist is just another tactic to avoid the need for surrender. If there is an all-knowing, all-powerful, everywhere existing, Creator-God, then everyone is answerable and accountable to Him. If so, one needs to bow to this God in surrender to His will, word, and Being. This, these self-proclaimed atheists do not want to do. Surrender. Surrender opinions. Surrender passions. Surrender to the awareness one has done wrong. Surrender to accountability. Surrender to the need to make restitution, make things right with others. Surrender of habits, addictions. Surrender of bitterness, grudges. Surrender of pride. Surrender of oneself. Some walked past the pub’s provided burn barrel without depositing their masks. Despite the freedom in giving up one’s mask, as the article noted, “some local residents remained reluctant to eliminate mask-wearing from their daily routines.” Whatever those reasons, they meant more to the wearers than freedom. Same with surrendering one’s life to Christ. Folks’ reasons for not surrendering to Christ, whatever they are, mean more to them than the forgiveness, eternal life, peace, and freedom that they would have if they would but surrender. To their eternal detriment, they bypass the burn barrel. Perhaps, having a burn barrel celebration is a good idea. I mean, if a pub can sponsor one, why can’t a church? If so, would you toss something in or bypass the burn barrel? -Pastor Clifford Hurst
don’t give up on victory
Bro. Clifford Hurst 05/30/2021
It is stating the obvious to say life is a battle. The Christian life is a battle. All-out war. However, life’s being a battle not only bespeaks of its struggles, losses, wounds, causalities, and hardships, it also bespeaks of its victories, spoils, gains, and acquisitions. Some forget this. Yes, we are in a battle, but that only means there are victories to be had. Some have given up on there being any such thing as victory. Some have given up on victory just before it would have been theirs. That was Richard the Lionheart in the Third Crusade. Twice, the Lionheart with his crusading army fought his way to within striking distance of Jerusalem and turned back. The second time, victory, had he only known it, would have been all but sure. On the first attempt, the Lionheart had fought his way down the Mediterranean’s coast, the western border of the Holy Land, conquering each successive port city he encountered. Then, he fought his way eastward towards Jerusalem, painstakingly slow, in order to rebuild fortifications between which he could string a supply line back to the ports. He reached the point where the next march would have ended at Jerusalem, the goal, the aim, the prize. This first attempt at conquering the Holy City in 1191 ended in a Crusader council of war convened by Richard I. It determined that given the winter conditions and the enemies’ superior numbers in the field around the City and garrisoned within, Jerusalem could not be taken. An eyewitness later disagreed noting later that the crusaders did not take into account that the enemy troops had become so exhausted, affected by the same conditions, that, their famous commander Saladin, having trouble keeping them together, had disbanded them and sent them home. He had left himself only a small number to defend Jerusalem. There was a window of time before a contingency of fresh troop reinforcements arrived that Jerusalem’s walls could have been breached and her defenders driven out. Yes, in 1191 Jerusalem very likely could have been conquered by the Lionheart. Instead, he and the crusaders turned back short of victory. In that second attempt in 1192, during the better weather of summer, the Lionheart again marched his troops to Jerusalem. This time it was Saladin that held a council of war. He and his generals concluded that they and their army were set for defeat. Saladin decided to leave Jerusalem and began preparations to do so. That evening his scouts reported that the Crusaders had mounted up as if prepared to attack, then, instead of heading towards Jerusalem, they returned to their tents. The next morning, July 4, again the Crusaders abandoned the field and gave up on Jerusalem. The Crusaders had again been on the cusp of victory, taking the Holy City. They gave up on victory just before they would have obtained it. They gave up on a victory that would have been all but certain. They turned their backs on Jerusalem. They retreated. Seeing them leave, Saladin and his armies within the City’s walls rejoiced with great delight and, instead of deserting Jerusalem, remained entrenched. The crusaders’ leader, the Lionheart, wasn’t so, well, Lionhearted. The Third Crusade was the Christian’s West largest and most organized crusade, led by the greatest of its kings. Yet, when the Lionheart left the Holy Land, Jerusalem was still held by its Islamic conquerors. As I write this, I keep hearing the words of a song our choir sings: “Don’t give up on victory.” Don’t give up on victory. Don’t turn back from victory. Don’t give up on victory over the temptation with which you are struggling. Don’t give up on victory of reconciliation in your marriage. Don’t give up on victory in reaching your God-given goals. Don’t give up on victory in a turn-around in the decline in your church. Don’t give up on victory of your lost family’s being saved. Don’t give up on victory of a soul, mind, or body healing. Our commander and King is more than Lionhearted. He is the Lion. He will not only lead us to victory, He has already obtained it. We don’t fight for victory. We fight in victory. You’re on the brink, the cusp of victory. Don’t turn back. Don’t abandon the field. Don’t retreat. Let me just say it again, “Don’t give up on victory.” Pastor Clifford Hurst
blue raspberry jolly ranchers
Bro. Clifford Hurst 05/23/2021
There are things in life that really cause me to wonder. One thing I spend time bumfuzzled over and wondering about is Blue Raspberry Jolly Ranchers. I just don’t understand. To help myself stay awake while traveling, I purchase a large variety bag of Jolly Ranchers. I prefer one with the traditional flavors: Apple, Blue Raspberry, Cherry, Grape, and Watermelon. I wish I could buy a bag with these flavors minus the Blue Raspberry. Blue Raspberry is my least favorite; grape, probably my most. This is the thing I wonder about: I keep my variety bag of Jolly Ranchers in my vehicle’s console. While driving, I open it and, keeping my eyes on the road, reach in blindly and pull out a Jolly Rancher. If I pull out a Blue Raspberry, I am disappointed, but to avoid waste, I make myself eat it. This, I think, also contributes to eliminating the Blue Raspberries from the bag giving me more of a chance at a different flavor next time. If only it would work that way. Here is my wonder—and, perhaps, my curse, but before I share it, let me analogize it. If Blue Raspberries were to represent bad experiences in life (trials and troubles), Grape represents the good ones (blessings). I want Grape but, it seems, I mainly get Blue Raspberries. And that’s my wonder.--a disproportionate number of times, I will reach into the bag and pull out a Blue Raspberry. You say, “Probably no more than other flavors; it just seems like you do because you dislike that flavor.” No, really. Ask my wife. She travels with me. One time, particularly disgruntled with extracting only Blue Raspberries, I insisted she watch. That day of travel, I blindingly, drew from the bag six Blue Raspberries successively in a row. Six! With five different flavors, what are the odds of that? I was annoyingly flummoxed. How can this be? Does this just happen, no explanation, just happens? Is it just a coincidence? Is it a fluke, raw randomness? Does a gleeful, pesky tiny demon live in the bag and push the Blue Raspberry flavored pieces towards my grasping fingers? Has the cosmos conspired against me determined to persecute me by foisting the Blue Raspberries upon me? Is there any scientific, logistic, or statistical explanation? Is there a physiological property in my fingers that magnetize them to Blue Raspberry? Is God chastising me trying to wean me from my sweet tooth? Is my wife clandestinely taking all the other flavors out of the bag? Is there more of the Blue Raspberry denomination in the bag to begin with, a greater ratio of that flavor increasing the odds of my picking it? Are the Blue Raspberries during packaging added in the center of the bag which makes them more accessible to my reaching hand? Do I not notice when I draw my favorite flavor out in a long chain of succession? You can tell I’ve spent a lot of time wondering about this. What do you think is the reason I keep getting Blue Raspberries? Or is there no reason? No, please, don’t give that answer. I do not like thinking there is no reason. I do not believe in coincidence. I do not believe in random. I believe that everything has a cause except the Uncaused One. Yet, I do not believe in determinism, predestinationism. I believe that God has given us free will. But, even beyond cause and free will, I believe that God is sovereign. God is in control. God’s will WILL happen. He does all things for our good and His glory—and, thankfully, our greatest good intersects at the junction of His greatest glory. Yes, we have free will. Yes, everything has a cause. But, yes, the steps of a man are ordered of the Lord. Even when he seems to keep getting Blue Raspberry Jolly Ranchers.
hiding the depletion
Bro. Clifford Hurst 05/16/2021
The time has come to begin thinking about it. Although I am still five to seven years removed from qualifying age, the subject of Social Security keeps coming up. Sometimes I bring it up. Usually, others. It’s just par for the course for many I hang with. Invariably, when someone is contemplating when he will “go on Social Security,” he will qualify his intent with “if it doesn’t run out by then.” Way back when I began to be politically conscious, forty-plus years ago, I heard that social security was going to run out. It hasn’t. That it hasn’t serves as numbing, seemingly conclusive evidence that it never will—and I, so close to needing it, sure hope it doesn’t. Yet, as of 2020, the United States has a negative birthrate. This portends disaster for Social Security (SS). Here’s why: In 1960 the ratio of workers to beneficiaries of SS was 5 to 1. In 2005 it was 1 to 1. In 2010, 2 to 9. And, for 2020, 1 to 3. For those in Rio Linda, as Rush Limbaugh would put it, that means that in 2020 there was only one worker paying the benefits for every three SS beneficiaries. Yet, this depletion of funds is being masterfully hidden. Now, I’m not noting this about SS to disturb the elderly or to bore the young, but to make a point. It’s this: When the depletion of a resource from which one successfully and regularly draws is unknown or hidden, its recipients are lulled into a false security that the resource will always be there. Over and over, we hear, “We are having a rough time in America, but America is the greatest nation in the world. America is the freest nation in the world. America is the richest nation in the world.” All true! But, for decades, as folks have drawn on these resources of freedom, wealth, and opportunities and have received a consistent, unfailing abundance of these things, there has been an exponentially plunging depletion of these resources. And make no mistake, our liberties and opportunities and heritage are resources just as certainly as the oil in the ground and the fertile soil on top of it. Why the depletion? For the same reason there is a depletion of SS resources: The ratio is rapidly changing between those who believe the things about America that made her free, rich, and great, and those who don’t. The number of those who don’t is expanding rapidly. And, again, when the reality of the depletion is kept hidden, folks do not realize, nor are they concerned, it’s happening. They think the resource will always be there. A little analogy: Suppose, every morning you go to the refrigerator and from a pitcher pour a glass of orange juice. Today, you have no worries that tomorrow, and the next day, you will be able to do the same. You will have your glass of orange juice tomorrow. It will be there. No worries. Unless. Unless you notice that the juice in the pitcher is being depleted. If you notice that, you will be concerned and take measures that you do not run out of orange juice ensuring that tomorrow there will be enough for a glass. But, let’s say we paint the pitcher black. You wouldn’t be able to see the lowering level of juice each day through the sides of the pitcher. Oh, you say, “We could look in from the top.” Okay. Let’s put on an opaque lid. Now, you wouldn’t be able to see the depletion. Wait, you say, “I would be able to tell from the lessening heft when I lifted the pitcher from the fridge’s shelf.” Okay, let’s leave the pitcher in the refrigerator and attach it to a pivoting cradle so juice can be poured from it without lifting it. “But,” you protest, “Even just rotating the pitcher on the pivot you’d still be able to perceive its weight.” My, but you’re persistent. Okay. Let’s put a servo on the cradle and automate it. Now, push a button, and the pitcher tips in its cradle and pours orange juice into your glass. If we have completely hidden the depletion in the pitcher, we will believe that the next morning and the next morning, and the next morning, we will have our glass of orange juice. Then, one morning, we will push the button, the pitcher will tip in the cradle, and there will be no juice poured out. Make no mistake. Greater efforts are being made to hide the depletion of America’s greatest resources. We continue to draw on them fully believing tomorrow there will yet be more. We will until--until they’re all gone: Liberties. Free-markets. Democracy. Capital. All gone. The enemies of truth, reality, and freedom will have been successful. The enemies of truth and freedom will have done with America what the Darkside hackers did by shutting down the Colonial Oil Pipeline. A local resident today went to a gas pump in the Southeast where, each time in the past when he needed gas, he pumped his tank full. Today, not a drop came out of the nozzle. Thank God, there is never a depletion of the spiritual resources of God through Christ. And, I’m not hiding anything to say that. It is available what you need today. Tomorrow. Next week. A year from now. As we used to sing, “There is a river, that never shall run dry.” Jesus visited the Temple during a great celebration commemorated by a dead ritual. As the priest’s upturn pitcher emptied out and the poured-out water quickly absorbed into the ground, Jesus could take it no longer. He stood and cried: “Your pitcher is empty. Your spiritual resources are completely depleted. But come unto me and drink. Out of your belly shall flow rivers of living water.” There is a resource you need never worry will be depleted. If you need it tomorrow, it won’t have run out by then. Nothing being hidden here.