When I was a brand-new Christian, I suffered for too many years with a nagging doubt as to whether I was really a Christian. It wasn’t because of some on-going struggle with a certain horrific sin. Nevertheless, I couldn’t shake that nibbling at me with doubts that felt like a reprimand chewing me out for even daring to think that God would accept the likes of me. I had accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior, but maybe I didn’t say the right words or do enough good deeds–why was I feeling so miserable and here I’m supposed to be ‘filled with the joy of the Lord’. Right? Not how I felt. Not at all. As a matter of fact, the doubts would growl at me when I couldn’t sleep at night or when a very convicting evangelistic sermon was given, I just knew I must go forward…again! And I did…on 3 different occasions. Went forward and was even baptized again at one of the largest churches in the USA, along with over 100 others at the 2nd service that Sunday morning south of Chicago, in Indiana. I just felt so guilty, so much of the time. Until…until I read and digested verses like those found in John’s Gospel, the 8th chapter. It hit me like a ton of bricks (well, not that violently and fatally!)– the time to worry about my salvation was when I no longer cared about it or about Jesus or about anything having to do with God. When I didn’t want anything to do with Jesus, then I had something to worry about. God, you go your way and I’ll go mine. But that wasn’t me at all. I desperately wanted to be a child of God, my warts and all. I needed God. I always have, but I just didn’t know if He gave a hoot about me. Well, those insecurities about my eternal security lessened the more I heard God’s Word and the more time I spent with Him. Just like Jesus said, ‘He who belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God’ (John 8:47). If we hear Him, listen to the Lord, follow Him as best we can always getting right when we’ve gone wrong, wanting to know His Word, cherishing moments in the Bible whether in the morning, afternoon or late at night. Wanting Him is the best assurance He gives us of His salvation. Not my feelings of insecurity, my self-doubts put on Him. No. Read verse 47 again. Doesn’t that just ring true? Like a tuning fork is the Bible, tuning to the right note and the right pitch so we sing and play the right notes with that pure tone of the Lord. I’m glad I’m a child of God, and the more time I spend with Him in prayer and reading His Word, the less time I have to wonder and to doubt and just drive myself batty!
Were you afraid of the dark as a child? I was…and at certain times and places, I still am. I don’t like to admit it as it sounds so childish. But at my age, who cares if someone laughs at you. That’s their problem! The dark can still grab me with fear once in a while. It stems from when I was in the polio ward at the young age of 2 years– I can still remember at night those old-fashioned shades being pulled down, and the metal sides to our cribs locked into place, and the old globe lights being turned off–and it was dark as dark could be. Sixty-five years later and I can still picture it; and, if I think about it for awhile, I feel like I’m still back there…in the Sister Kenny Ward at Margaret Hague Hospital in Jersey City, New Jersey. Talking with both my sister and brother, they remember not just what happened to me but to the family and to the new neighborhood that we had just moved to the week after that germ found a new home in me, and what the kids at school said and just lots and lots of other consequences from having a highly contagious disease affect one of the children, the baby of the family, their brother. Fast forward ahead many decades now, and Sue and I are staying at a rather funky Bed and Breakfast in rural Connecticut, so we can enjoy some of that unbelievably beautiful fall foliage in New England. We stayed in a little, old cottage attached to an antique shop the owners had which was itself part of the much older colonial home that they lived in. The B&B complex was set way back from the tiny road that ran out front. No street lights there. We had watched a little TV before heading to bed, which was in a nice-sized bedroom at the back of the cottage. We turned the TV off, got into bed and..uh oh, it was so dark you couldn’t see the hand in front of you. I kept looking and no hand, no wife, no anything!! I jumped out of bed in male Fischer-style panic (we’re famous for it!) and after grasp onto and banging into the molding of the bedroom door, stubbing my toe on the ridiculously hard bed frame, I finally got back to that TV and turned it back on and just let it run all night to give but a little light…so I could sleep in peace and quiet (for my wife!). Zechariah 14 is a great chapter about ‘that day’, ‘the day of the Lord’, the coming time when the Lord will right all the wrongs in this crazy world, no more jihadists, no more phony-baloney politicos of any sort or stripe. In verse 7 it says that ‘it will be a unique day, without daytime or nighttime–a day known to the Lord. When evening comes there will be light.’ An endless time of perpetual light. As the Prophet Isaiah said, ‘The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned’ (Isaiah 9:2). Like a return to earliest creation, when God created light, even before He separated the light from the dark (Genesis 1: 4). And what did Jesus call Himself in John 8:12?–‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’ Jesus lights the way. It’s easy to follow Him when we see His light before us. And His light in our lives remains forever, giving us eternal life! Whatever darkness you or I may fear, open the shades of belief in Jesus, let down the metal sides of those cribs that hold us in, and turn on the light that Jesus shines all around for you and for me! Yes, let there be light… His light in our lives!
In my life, I’ve just had the very best friends. Not gobs of them at any one time, but at each place or church or job as financial planner, the Lord has provided good friends to enrich my life. I look back and thank the Lord for the blessings of friendship. For all those friends He has provided for me. And beyond that I hope that I have been the blessing to someone else as their friend. I’ve learned a lot over the years…and God’s not done with me yet! I’ve learned that having a friend is not a common, ordinary experience. Most people could care less. Even some Christians that we know and love. Let me tell you what I mean. When I left the 3rd church I served, it was a messy and painful experience to say the least. Devastating then and for quite awhile afterwards. There were over 100 ministers in my old denomination in our larger area. I was a member-in-good-standing–or so I thought, whatever that meant. Until it all fell apart for me…and them. Of all those ministers, the whole bunch, only one ever phoned me to say he was praying for me. Only one, and I guess that’s better than none! I guess. No one from my denomination ever stopped by, no one ever sent a letter or a postcard (no e-mail in those days). It was ironic that my dear friend, the local hospital Roman Catholic priest-chaplain, had me preach at the Sunday Mass at the hospital two later and said to ‘get back on the horse’! And another friend, a leader in the Jewish Synagogue in town, phoned to encourage me to start my own church and ‘please use the synagogue as we only use it on Friday Nights and only a few times a year.’ Friends come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors. With surprises thrown in! Through all of this, I learned that being a friend is a very important calling from the Lord. Not just saying we are friends, but being one and actually acting as one, which is no ‘act’ at all. I’ve learned that right or wrong, I need to be there for my friends. Like what they did or not, I’m to be there for them just like God is for us when we’ve given Him lots of reasons for Him to ‘head out of Dodge’ from the like of John Fischer! Did you read that little verse in 1 Chronicles yet? Before that verse, for chapters really, are lists and lists of David’s most valuable people–leaders in the army, leaders in the coming Temple, and his own royal assistants. Almost at the end of all those names comes a man named Hushai the Arkite. He’s not in charge of the donkeys or the olive oil or one of the worship singers or an army officer. No, he’s listed simply as ‘the king’s friend’ (verse 33). Some Bible scholars think that the word ‘friend’ here is actually an official office, like an advisor or cabinet officer. But earlier in verse 33 there is mentioned Ahithophel who was ‘the king’s counselor’. David had his advisers but Hushai is his friend. The one he can open up to. The one he can trust like no other. The name Hushai in Hebrew means ‘quick’. As if to say, when a friend is in distress and trouble, don’t hold back. Let them know you care, that you love them, that your prayers will always be there for them. Be a friend like Hushai. Believe me, I’m taking my own advice. I’ve learned. The Lord has shown me. I’ve been there. You too?
Jesus has just told the crowd that they are following Him because He fed them…food for their stomachs, bread and fish to keep them alive and well. He encourages them not to ‘work for the food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life…’ (verse 27). And I’ll bet(even though I am not a betting man!) that they wonder how they can get from Jesus some of that Wonder Bread! So they ask Him,’ What must we do to do the works God requires?’ What do we have to do to get a chunk of that bread? And that becomes the universal question, the question for the ages. What do I have to do to get in good with God? We could go on for the rest of the year with answers from comparative religions to economic theories to pleasures allowed and those prohibited, we could read the philosophers and dramatists from ancient times, from time immemorial. But for me, I’m like the crowd that day. I want to hear from Jesus…what He has to say. You too? Most would expect Him to give a long laundry list of things to do to get in the good graces of God. I remember a terrible book that I read in Bible College about prayer– how to get things from God. Like God has all the goodies and we have to figure out how to open His clenched fists, His reluctance to give more than just the back of His hand. Wangle it out of Him! Use just the right words! Terrible, I say. Makes our loving Lord into a great, big, cosmic meany. Here’s Jesus clear and simple answer–‘the work of God is this: to believe in the One He has sent.’ Believe in Jesus as the Son of God come in the flesh to offer His life a ransom for many, to forgive our sins offering the free gift of eternal life as God’s children, safe in His arms forever. Jesus says that He is the bread God gives; like the manna that God gave through Moses day after day for 40 long years in that desert. And, of course, the crowd wants this bread–‘…from now on give us this bread’ (verse 34). Possibly shaking His head at the denseness of this crowd, He tells them that He is the bread of life. He Himself. You need look no farther nor further. He’s standing right in front of you. Do you see Him? Do you believe Him and believe in Him? I first put my faith in Jesus when I was 16 years old…over 50 years ago now. I believed in who He said He was. And, trust me, I knew so little of His claims–mainly that He loved me and wanted to be in my life. That’s all I heard that Sunday night on my radio. I didn’t know all that that meant, not really. But I learned. I started reading the Bible. I found a Bible-believing church where I couldn’t get enough of sermons and Sunday School teaching and anything at all about this new life in Christ. I was growing in Him but nobody had to tell me that I needed to. I knew it. And I wanted more of Him. Not just the goodies, which I didn’t know He had to offer anyway. And I’m still growing (not just in weight either!!) and learning and asking for forgiveness for daily sins, and wanting to share Him with others. As St Paul wrote in his letter to the Philippians, ‘…work out your salvation with fear and trembling…’ (Phil. 2:12). Notice Paul didn’t say to work for your salvation. No, but work it out. Get it out. Let salvation work itself out in your life. Let God work through you once you have received His free gift of salvation. That’s what this ‘Reflections’ blog is for me…God working His salvation out through my feeble hands and mind… to share Him with others, with you. What’s in your heart that God has placed there to work out for Him for others? Believe it or not, He has great things to do through you…and me! Why not let Him…
One of our new favorite movies is entitled Popeye starring the late Robin Williams! In it is a catchy little song called ‘Everything is Food, Food, Food’. That song could have been sung by the ‘Apostles’ Choir’ as Jesus discerned what people were really looking for as they searched for Him. The crowd had been tired and hungry. Word had gotten around that Jesus is this miracle-worker. He heals the sick and they wonder what He’ll do next… and maybe what He’ll do for them. But He has compassion on them, and does for them what only God can do–fed them all, probably well over 20,000 people, starting with a mere 5 barley loaves of bread and 2 dried or pickled fish. Everyone had all they could eat, all they wanted; and there were even 12 baskets of left-overs. I would have loved those left-overs! And best of all, no bill was presented at the end of the meal and to you Aussies reading here, no tip was expected or given! Jesus withdraws up a mountain area to spend time by Himself while His disciples sail to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, to Capernaum, hometown for Jesus’ ministry. But the crowd wants more. The crowd searches high and low. They want more…and then some. Of Jesus and His teaching? Of Jesus and His mercy and love? Of Jesus, the Promised Messiah whose message is like that of no one they had ever heard before? And when they find Jesus He says ‘I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill'(John 6: 26). The crowd wants more of Jesus–not the divine Son of God but the bread- and fish-man who fills their tummies. The One who gives out all those goodies. Over the past 34 years ministering where we live, either as pastor or even while being a financial planner for 20 years, I have performed numerous funerals and weddings. I remember one person who attended, I’d say, every funeral I ever officiated at. Don’t think this person knew most of the deceased or their families, but the newspaper had mentioned that a reception would follow– and there was the draw! ‘Everything is Food, Food,Food’! This person even had plastic liners in overcoat pockets to cart home some goodies for later consumption! Talk about planning ahead! Back to what Jesus said about that crowd that day. Now, let’s bring to us. And I wonder if all those showers of blessings had dried up in a drought, how would I feel about Jesus? Would I stand tall for Him when another religion says to convert or die…what would I do? What would I do if I had to live where being a Christian was a sign of shame and bigotry and hatred…and to be accepted all I had to do was deny Him or just plain leave Him out of my public life? What would I do? What would you do? What will we do as this is coming our way more and more, day by day, we see the shadows of deciding for Jesus alone coming on the horizon. The shadows are lengthening and our Lord is asking what we will do. Will we stand by Him? Will we stand up for Him regardless…? Some things to ponder for today– and there’s more on my heart from this Bible passage, but that’s for next time…
A few years back my wife and I rented a condo outside Orlando, Florida so we’d have access to visit lots of family in the area and also to visit Disney World Epcot Center. We’d been to Epcot before but it had been awhile and we so enjoy that park. The condo we rented, at full price may I add, was a timeshare rental…we had rented it from the timeshare owner. We’ve been to timeshare presentations before…have you ever been? It’s gruesome! High pressured, guilt-ridden, shame-producing, just plain horrible with Dickensian salesmen breathing down our necks! They must have read that sales epic, How Not to Take No for an Answer. For me, a root canal was less painful. But they phoned us at our rental condo every day to offer us free tickets to Disney…then worth over $150. And I told them, day by day, that we don’t want a timeshare, we’re not buying, forget it, we know people who have timeshares and love them but not us, doesn’t fit our travel life-style. Just plain forget it. And they didn’t and wouldn’t. They kept phoning relentlessly until finally, beaten down and crushed under the weight of their sales onslaught, we gave in. Or I did, really! But only if we could have the Epcot tickets and use them before we had to face the music, that infernal sales presentation! They agreed and I rushed over to get the tickets where the next day we used them and enjoyed them. Why are free tickets always more fun? Have no idea! Our last day at this condo complex we attended our appointed meeting…a free breakfast was thrown in to butter us up. They pushed, they cajoled, almost screamed at us until finally they gave up…we were not buying just as we had told them from that very first contact with us. As if in desperation, the salesman pointedly looked at us with daggers in his eyes and said, ‘You did it for the tickets, didn’t you’, and he left us by the breakfast buffet with disgust and disdain in his beady eyes. ‘You did it for the tickets’–yes, just like I said–if they had only listened.We had warned them more than once. We have never been to another timeshare presentation. But that parting slam shot of his at us reminded me of what happened after Jesus fed all those people of the hillside having had only 5 barley loaves and 2 dried or pickled fish. Everyone gets their fill, with plenty of left-overs galore. What a miracle indeed! Their eyes could hardly believe what their stomachs were telling them–they were so full when He had almost nothing to feed them. Jesus had given them a sign that He is more than just a prophet, more than some special religious teacher, more than a renowned rabbi. Jesus is the Son of God sent from the Father, the Messiah promised and now present among them. Just look at those twelve baskets of left-overs. However, Jesus senses that there’s more going on here than meets the eye. Actually, there’s less going on–the people, He says, aren’t looking for signs of Jesus’ divine mission (John 6:26) but just to fill their stomachs. They’re not looking for Him, but for what He can do for them. And that hits home. How about me? And you? Just looking for the benefits, the blessings without falling in love with the Blessed Savior. The goodies without the necessary growing-pains of discipleship in Christ? Cheap grace, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer would say. Like Jesus saying to us, ‘you did it for the bread and fish, for your stomach’s sake’. ‘You did it for…’ More about this…next time!
We were hoping to get a phone call today, and waited all day– but nothing came, the phone never even rang once. What happened? Such bad service when people don’t return calls as asked and expected and needed. Then I checked my e-mail and there was a message from this person frustrated that our phone kept ringing and ringing and not even an answering machine where they could leave a message. So, I e-mailed back saying that maybe they had a wrong number, but underneath I was a bit perturbed at them. Did they really try? Are they just placating me? But then my wife had an idea, a brilliant one at that I’m sorry to say–try our phone…which was deader than a door-nail (‘I don’t mean to say that I know, of my own, knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a door-nail’–from Dickens, A Christmas Carol!). But still our phone was deader than a door-nail! Jiggle a few wires and we’re back in business, we hope! With an apologetic e-mail send off rather sheepishly on my part! I don’t like the feeling of being disconnected. Cut-off…out-of-touch. Here’s some real good news, though–can’t ever say that about our Savior Jesus Christ! Never, ever disconnected. I love this story from John 5 of the healing of the lame man at the Pool of Bethesda. My wife and I were there in Jerusalem a few years ago and it was so emotional seeing the actual place where this healing took place. Emotional for me personally as I had polio when I was 2 years old, and I know what could have happened to me…braces, iron lung, crutches…and I thank God that none of that was in my future. But I still am moved by the struggles of paralyzed people. As you go through the story you really see the love of Jesus and all His caring for our varied needs. He really cares for you and me. He really does. In verse 6 Jesus ‘saw him lying there’–Jesus doesn’t just take a quick glance or shake His head in halfhearted pity; but He sees him, He watches this man and the verse then says that Jesus ‘learned that he had been in this condition for a long time…’ He saw and delved deeper to find out what had happened to this man, why he was paralyzed and for how long and other things about him and his family, I’m sure. And then Jesus asks the man if he wants to get well. That seems rather obvious, doesn’t it. Or does it? Some of us gripe and complain and seek sympathy with no intention of ever changing that attention-getting whatever. Do you know what I mean? Some don’t want to get well. So, Jesus asks. How about you and me? Do we really want to get closer to the Lord? Do we really want to give up gossip when it feels so good? Do we really want our worship life to be so precious that the extra time is no real sacrifice at all. It’s a joy and a feast to sit at the feet of Jesus. ‘Do we want to get…’–Jesus asks us. And when the man says ‘yes’, Jesus heals him right on the spot, no delays for this man whose been under it all for 38 years. And today, in the story, it’s the Sabbath, when you’re not supposed to do healing, the rabbis say. Hey, would it hurt anyone to just wait until tomorrow when Sabbath is over? Oy veh, already. He’s been waiting 38 years now, what’s one more day? And the flak will be a lot less tomorrow, maybe they won’t even notice and look the other way. But Jesus notices and He’s Lord of the Sabbath. He’ll do what He does to help whenever He wants. Poor healed man–now the religious folk nail his hide to the proverbial wall! ‘The law forbids…Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?’ ‘Who…who…who???’ If I were Jesus, I think I would have headed for the hills about now. But not the Lord of the Sabbath. No, He even goes out of His way to find this newly healed man; hunting high-and low in the Temple urging him to continue the healing by leading a life free from whatever sin has been paralyzing him. And the man just can’t stop talking about Jesus! He’s so excited, so elated…healed and well and productive, all because of Jesus. Maybe we should talk a bit more about Jesus to others? What do you think? Keep talking about the One who sees us, who cares about us, who finds out about us, heals us, and leads us to a more godly life day by day. ‘Day by day and with each passing moment’. Our phone may have been disconnected but never our Lord Jesus…He’s that close and that alert and that sensitive to you and me, His children, forever!
I know that I’ve given you quite a bit to read today. But remember last time when we felt committed to spend more time in the Author’s work so we can be more like Him and His Son? Remember–the method-actor? 2 Samuel 7 tells about the feelings of King David of Israel, who happens to live in a magnificent royal palace, that God’s Ark, which contains the 10 Commandments given to Moses, and represents the presence of God Almighty Himself, resides in a tent, called the Tabernacle, just as it has for many, many years as God traveled with His people out of slavery, out of Egypt, through that hot, dry desert for 40 years and then, finally, into the promised land. Wow, that’s quite a run-on sentence! I’m tired! Think I’ll take a little rest! Back to King David and his palace, where he complains to God’s appointed prophet, Nathan, about his feelings that God also needs a proper palace to reside in. It’s just not right! And Nathan, without missing a beat or uttering a prayer, says to go for it!–‘Whatever you have in mind, go ahead and do it, for the Lord is with you'(2 Samuel 7:3). I’m sure David is delighted to hear this and off to sleep he goes. And a good sleep it is! A satisfying one! But Nathan, like he’s eaten way too many hot dogs at Coney Island on the 4th of July, has got word from the Lord who says, ‘hey, back off, buddy! I never told you and anyone else that I need a house to live in. I’ve moved with my people wherever they have gone. Tell David to call off the construction crew. Get your earnest money back. And by the way, Nathan, next time check with Me first before you open your…well, you know!’ Let’s not be too hard on Nathan for how many times have we opened our mouths, made a decision, committed ourselves only to realize (probably when things fell apart)that I had forgotten to consult the Lord, to pray for His direction? I have. And I can’t tell you how many times, for I can’t count that high! You too? Hot dog, I’m not alone! But seriously it’s only obvious that to get with the Lord first is the way to go, the best way and should be, well, in time, the only way. Catch yourself…make it a holy habit to pray first to the Lord. Just a short prayer…a realization that you and I want what He wants, to go where He wants us to go, to seek Him in every single part of our lives. Like the old hymn, “All to Jesus I Surrender, All to Him I freely Give…” You did notice that there are two sections of 2 Samuel for today? 2 Samuel 11 & 12 tell us the story of David and Bathsheba, and God’s need to confront King David with what he has done. And look who God sends to confront the King…yes, His prophet Nathan! And this time Nathan doesn’t tell David what the King wants to hear, but has a message that would make me shake in my sandals if I were Nathan. Confront the King with a horrendous story of sin and lying and murder and adultery and coveting and stealing and on-and-on. And Nathan knows that the king’s reaction could spell the end of Nathan’s ministry and even his very life. But, no hesitation is recorded here. He’s heard from God. He goes right to David with a parable of a terrible theft that just grabs the heart of the King. It is a very moving story that Nathan tells. It engrosses the King’ mind and heart until he just erupts with indignation–‘David burned with anger against the man…the man who did this deserves to die…because he did such a thing and had no pity'(2 Samuel 12:5&6). And that’s when Nathan, girding his loins with courage and guts, says ‘You are the man!’ I think Nathan has learned a valuable lesson–seek the Lord first and foremost, and then follow through with what you know from Him, no matter what the cost or the price to pay. Pray to the Lord– and then press forward in courage and His strength. I like Nathan. I’m like Nathan. Not perfect by a long-shot, but willing to grow in and for the Lord? You too? To God first…from now on!
Have you read the parable in Luke 16 yet? It is a very strange one indeed! It has puzzled Bible scholars for multiple generations. It sounds like Jesus is urging His followers to be shady, to cut corners, to act like a band of criminals–which obviously He is not meaning. Verse 8 gives rich meaning and a challenge to those of us who are believers in Jesus Christ. Is that you? Have you welcomed Him into your heart and mind and life? If not, then do so even right now with a simple prayer of faith and acceptance of Jesus as your Lord and Savior. If you have already believed in Him, then this parable is saying that people outside the faith can, and often are, more committed to their work or plans or ambitions than God’s people are to His Kingdom and His plans. This parable corners me with Jesus asking point blank–‘do you really want all of Me in all of your life?’ What if He put it to you the same way? Your answer? You’re probably wondering about the title for this submission–‘learning from a great actor’. Well, let me explain. My wife and I have always enjoyed watching the Hercule Poirot series by Agatha Christie on PBS television here in the States starring the wonderful English method-actor David Suchet. He has now starred in each of Miss Christie’s Poirot stories and will no longer be filming the role of the great Belgian detective. Recently we watched a show about the making of the series and why it’s been so enduring. What grabbed my attention was David Suchet’s absolute commitment to not just acting as Poirot but actually more like being him. Suchet read every Poirot mystery. He noted over 90 idiosyncrasies of the man with those potent ‘little gray cells’! He lived the part. He noted every detail that the author wrote. He became Hercule Poirot as best a great method-actor can be. And here is where Jesus’ parable convicted me. The actor became the character. What about the time I spend in the Author’s work? The time in the Bible? Is it just to check off the reading list-for-the-day to get on to more fun things? To pray on the run if time or weather permits? Do I write down little things I note about God or His Son so that I can be more like Him? And do I do it for the long-haul, committing my life and fortunes and family and really everything I am and have– to His Lordship? “For the people of the world are more shrewd in dealing with their kind than are the people of light”, Jesus said (Luke 16: 8). I know nothing personal about the man David Suchet, but I do know his commitment as a great actor has challenged me to be deeply consider my own relationship with Jesus Christ– to stop acting a part and to be more like Him. You too? Pick up an old hymnal and start singing fellow New Jerseyan Thomas Chisholm’s beautiful hymn, ‘O To Be Like Thee’–O to be like Thee, Blessed Redeemer, This is my constant longing and prayer; gladly I’ll forfeit all of earth’s treasures, Jesus, Thy perfect likeness to wear…’ Couldn’t have said it better!
At the second church I served as pastor, the West Side Presbyterian Church in Englewood, New Jersey, I started a Wednesday night Bible Study discussion group called ‘the Seekers’. It was held in my home, called the ‘manse’ in Presbyterian circles, the pastor’s home which was owned by the church. I was at West Side Church for 5 years in the mid-1970’s. It had been a church that suffered due to preaching and teaching that did not honor the Bible as God’s inspired and inerrant Word. In addition, the neighborhood became racially very mixed and interesting, but the existing church membership was reluctant to change and welcome new and different people into the fellowship of the Body of Christ. So, the church was on lean times indeed. But I love a challenge! I’ve learned that about myself over the years. Rather than serve as a curator at the museum or a hospice worker for a dying patient, I wanted to see what the Lord would do in this church on the way down and almost out. Seeking His direction and His will, preaching and teaching His Word. Hence, the Bible study group at home, long before home groups became popular, called the ‘Seekers’. And youth, college age, singles, elderly, mixed-race married couples, African-Americans, people from India and the Caribbean, people from the neighborhood who had lived there all their lives–it was exciting! All seeking to get closer to our Lord. Some with more questions for a growing faith. Some with more maturity than experience in life as a believer. Some wanting to dig deeper into the Bible while others wanted more to be shoulder-to-shoulder with friends and neighbors in a relaxed and relaxing setting, becoming something of a family that was most precious without some of that baggage we find in all our biological families(excepting mine of course!!). Chapter 13 of 1 Chronicles is a great chapter about seeking the Lord, becoming a ‘Seeker’. I always want to be a seeker…after the Lord. How about you? King David wants to bring the Ark of the Covenant back to Jerusalem where it belongs. The Ark was a large wooden box, containing the 10 Commandments given to Moses. The Ark symbolized the presence of God with His chosen people, and would be a center for the worship of the One True God. Both the political and spiritual capital of Israel would be in that Holy City of David, Jerusalem. In verse 2 David doesn’t consult just his people but also the Lord Himself. He seeks the Lord saying, ‘Let us bring the ark of our God back to us, for we did not inquire of it during the reign of Saul.’ Read that again. How sad. During all Saul’s reign, the Ark of God was ignored, seeking Him was just passe. Out of sight, out of mind. Another translation of verse 3 says this–‘…for we neglected Him during the reign of Saul’. I think that says it all. By not seeking God, we are neglecting Him and cutting ourselves off from His care and love, His wisdom and direction and help. How foolish! But let’s not be too harsh with these Old Testament peoples–I’ve done that also. Many times. Gone my own way. Prayed at the end, not at the very beginning and then crying out to God with real tears when what a mess I’ve made of things. Help! What’s very interesting to me is that this idea of seeking God becomes a major theme throughout the entire book of 1 Chronicles. Listen to chapter 16 and verses 10 and 11–‘Glory in His holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice. Look to the Lord and His strength; seek His face always.’ Then to chapter 22 verse 19–‘Now devote your heart and soul to seeking the Lord you God.’ Those are but a few! I challenge you to search the Scriptures here in 1 Chronicles, to seek the Lord, to not neglect Him; but to come to the One who is just plain ‘out of this world’ in love with you…and me!