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consider my lilies
Bro. Clifford Hurst 05/24/2020
Just outside the window of my study, where I now sit typing this, is a flower bed with four lilies, not yet blossomed, green against the dark mulch. I’ve watched these four in a soldierly line push up through the ice-glazed mulch, endure late frosts and freezes, and grow under mostly gray skies and blanketing fog. They all emerged from the ground at the same time, but now they stand like four children, siblings of varying ages, lined up according to height to have their photo taken. The one furthest west is the tallest; the second, shorter than the first; the third, shorter than the second; and the last shortest of all. Each successive lily is proportionately shorter than the prior one. If you are wondering why, the answer is obvious. Close to the last is a tree. The lilies resurrected from the cold ground before the tree had yet budded and leaved. Thus, the sun equally shone where each lily grew. But, soon the leaves on the tree appeared, blocking the rays of the already infrequent Ohio spring sun. The tree is so situated in the trajectory of the path of the after-spring-equinox sun, that in gradation each successive lily in the line up receives significantly incrementally less sunlight. No light no growth. Little light, little growth. Much light, much growth. Thus, the mystery of the succession of the shorter and skinnier lily to the taller and fatter lily is solved. It’s all about the time of exposure to the sunlight each received. A once frequent concern, theme of song, and topic of lesson and sermon in the Church was “growth.” Not self esteem. Not having your dream come true. Not health and wealth. Not emotive experience. Growth. Of course, that is the theme that runs through the NT epistles. We get saved; we grow. We are born-again, but not perfect; we grow. We are rooted in love; we grow to produce fruit. We have hang-ups, hang-overs, hang-ons from our old life; we grow. We are immature, selfish, petulant; we grow. On and on. The message is that we grow. We grow because we feed on the Word. We grow because we are planted in truth. We grow because of the atmosphere and climate of the community of the saints. We grow because we are in the Light. Indisputably, growth is the will of God for our lives, the possibility which He has provided, and should be the heart’s desire of every believer. Growth. And, growth is simple. Like the lilies it has to do with exposure. Exposure to the Word. Exposure to Biblical teaching, preaching. Exposure to the presence of God. Exposure to the fellowship of God’s people. Certainly, one can be exposed to these things at home—in his everyday not-at-church existence. To a degree. Just like a potted lily could get some sun inside a house. But, the lily outside is much more conveniently positioned to be watered and to receive sunshine. And there, the one situated to receive the most sun has the most growth. If we were to line up Christians according to exposure to the Word, presence of God, fellowship of the saints—all other factors being equal—the ones with the most receptive, consistent exposure would be the ones with the most growth. That kind of comparison with others is not fair. So, just consider your own life in different amounts of exposure. No church attendance. Sporadic church attendance. Frequent church attendance. Much church attendance. Envisioning that, you would see yourself like my four lilies. I know that there are so many other factors to consider. So many qualifications, variables, etc. But, in the end, it’s the exposure to the sunlight that brings growth. Much light, much growth. Some light, some growth. Little light, little growth. If you took a look at my lilies, you’d know what I meant. Hhhhmmmm. Heard that somewhere before? “Consider the lilies…” Consider my lilies.
why do bad things happen to good people?
Bro. Clifford Hurst 05/03/2020
This question was asked me this past week. And many other times before. I get the question. I get the perplexed sentiment in it. I get the consternation and confusion that compels it. In fact, I’ve asked it myself—many times. It is the Christian’s rendition of the problem of evil. The world asks, “If there is an all-powerful, loving God, how can there be suffering in the world?” Christians ask, “If a person is intently serving God, why would his God allow bad things happen to His servant, a good person.” I have spent much time in ministry trying to answer that question. Then it occurred to me that there is something very inherently wrong with the question itself, and I don’t like seeing what’s wrong with it. No one does who sees the error. The question seems so valid: “Why do bad things happen to good people?” What is wrong with the question? It makes the erroneous assumption that there are “good” people. (Don’t read further if you don’t want to be upset). To talk of “good people” is like talking about round squares, short giants, and nice-smelling skunks. I told you we wouldn’t like it. There is suffering in the world. Undeniably. God is good. Unalterably so. But, are people good? Many people are moral. They adhere to a moral code. Many people are polite, even apparently kind. A whole bunch of them are altruistic and caring. Why, yes, I can say there are many moral, polite, kind, nice people. That is certainly how it appears. But, are they good? Evidently not. Not intrinsically. Not at the core. The Bible x-rays human nature and reveals this: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jer 17:9); “As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.” (Rom 3:10-11). If you really want to be dismayed, read the verses following the last one. To think we are good because we are moral or kind is to make the same mistake as the rich, young man who came to Jesus wanting to find the way to eternal life: He addressed Jesus as the “Good Teacher,” and, immediately got a lecture from that Teacher: “Why do you call me good?” There is NONE good but God.” Of course, the young ruler was still correct. Jesus was God and, thus, good. But, that is not the point. The point is that no one except God is inherently good. No one. The young man then makes his worst mistake: He begins to try to refute Jesus’ declaration that only God is good by declaring, “No, I’m good too.” He insisted that he was good because he had kept all the commandments that had to do with treating people “good.” The rich young ruler wasn’t the first nor last to make this mistake. I just heard the pastor of the largest church in America say, “Ninety-nine percent of people are good. They have good hearts.” Really? No wonder he does not preach the true Gospel. If people are good, they don’t need a Savior. Jesus Himself noted this. He said, “I didn’t come to save the righteous, the good. I came to save sinners, the bad.” The point is, the good don’t need Jesus. The bad do. When we are contemplating why “the good” get suffering, should we not also be contemplating why the bad get Jesus? What greater blessing could one get than Jesus? There are lose ends to tie up in all this. There is the fact that each human is created in the image of God. That’s good in us. There’s this that the born-again bear the image of Christ. That’s good in us. But that's the point: If people see good in us, it is the God-good they see--not our goodness. There is only one truly good Person, and He suffered most—and for our badness. Jesus on the cross is the only One to whom the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” applies. In fact, a good question is “Why did the worst of things happen to The Best of Persons?” But, back to the original question: Why do bad things happen to good people? The question is dangerous because it concludes that we should not suffer because we are good. This implies that if we are good, then we deserve not to suffer--being good, we don’t deserve to have bad things happen to us. This is the converse of the truth. Actually, being bad, we don’t deserve good things happening to us. But good things do happen to us. There is a better question. Instead of “Why do bad things happen to good people,” what about “Why do such good things happen to bad people—like me?” Good things like God’s mercy, grace, and love. Things like salvation, forgiveness, and eternal life. Things like the many blessing, benefits, relationships, etc., He heaps upon us. “Why do such good things happen to bad people?” is the better question.
jesus' pouring from a vial
Bro. Clifford Hurst 04/26/2020
Seen it, I haven’t; I’ve just heard of it, a satirical meme that’s circulating. It shows Jesus with a vial of COVID virus in His hand turning it bottoms up and pouring it out on planet earth. It is an attempt to saddle God with the problem of evil during this pandemic. It purports the assumption that, if there is evil in the world, God is evil—in this case Jesus. Jesus, who is God, is the immediate, direct agent of COVID, and, thus, He is responsible for the evil and is to be blamed and disliked. I will resist responding to the fallacies of such an argument. I wish only to point out some ironies: First, the meme got the three elements right in the “cartoon;” Jesus, the vial, and an evil disease. The irony is they have them in the wrong positions. The vial is not being turned upside down by Jesus over the world. It is being turned upside down over Jesus. Jesus is not the source but the recipient. The evil is not from Jesus, it is poured out on Jesus. The evil poison is not COVID, it is sin. What people need to know is that, when Jesus was on the cross, the vial of all sin, wickedness, suffering, etc., was poured out on Jesus. “The Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” He drank the bitter vial, cup. Second, the fashionable pseudo-tolerance of our times renders people incapable of even considering or investigating that humans—not God--may be responsible for this COVID virus’ being unleashed. I do not know if it will be proved true, but there is a real possibility that this virus is the result of human error, if not, intent. I am certain that the artist of the meme of Jesus with the Vial would not even begin to countenance any evidence of the human instrumentality of the COVID pandemic much less consider it credible. Yet, those thus minded are quick to blame God for such evil. Third, the “artist” and those who would approve of his work, do not know how correct they are. Two thousand years ago an apocalyptic revelation was given of the end of this age and world. And, the picture the Revelator gives is of God, using angels to do so, pouring out a vials of judgments on planet earth. In summation, folks should remember that it was Jesus who had the vial poured upon Him—so we wouldn’t have to have those end-time vials poured on us. Those that insist that it is not fair that people suffer should consider that Jesus’ having their sins poured upon Him is not fair either. It’s mercy. Perhaps, it’s time for a meme of mercy not a meme of blame. Now mercy is something Jesus pours out on us.
the passion week: sunday:
Bro. Clifford Hurst 04/12/2020
The women have spent the evening gathering and preparing spices to go and anoint Jesus’ body as soon as the Sabbath is passed. They fitfully snooze intermittently awakening through the long night. It is still dark, morning not yet come, when one said, “None of us can sleep. Let’ just go ahead and go.” The others agree. They gather their tunics and spices and head into the darkened streets. They are alone as they trudge through the empty avenues. The birds are not yet singing. Only an early rooster falsely crows that dawn has come. As they walk, they begin to whisper the question that has plagued them throughout the night. “How will we get in? We can never move that huge stone. How?” As they leave the city, the eastern sky on their right begins to lighten. The birds begin to sing. Just as they enter the garden and approach the tomb, the first rays of the rising sun illuminate the rockface of the grave. The women abruptly halt, stumbling into one another, astonished. The mouth of the tomb gapes open; the stone pushed off to the side. Cautiously, timidly, they enter the sepulcher to an even greater shock: there is no body! Yet, the tomb was not empty. To either side of the stone shelf where Jesus’ corpse had been laid, are two in shining white array. Angels. They seek to calm the women. “Don’t be afraid. We know that you seek Jesus. But, He is, as you can see,” the angel points to the empty ledge, “He is not here! He is risen!” The other spoke, “Go tell the Eleven, and all His other followers.” Greatly amazed, trembling, the woman slowly leave the garden. Mary Magdalene in her haste is separated from the others. She is in a hurry. She searches for the Eleven, but finds Peter and John. At the news, those two rush away running at full speed. They leave Mary alone. She feels drawn to return to the garden. A question gnaws: “If Jesus is not in the tomb, where is He?” John is younger and faster. He passes panting Peter, and enters the garden ahead of him. He brakes at the entrance of the open tomb. Fear or wonder or the prospects of what he might find stops him. He only sticks his head into the door. His eyes begin to adjust to the dark. It is true. Jesus’ body is not there. Nothing is there. Except…except the linen, the shroud, with which Joseph and Nicodemus had wrapped him. He hears Peter approaching him. Peter pushes past John. John follows him. Then, they notice together not just the linen cloth but also the face napkin neatly folded, over to one side. Greatly wondering and beginning to believe, they find themselves exiting the garden as Mary re-enters. Mary stands before the tomb. The adrenaline of her wonder has turned to weeping. Blinded by her tears, she looks again into the sepulcher. The two angels have reappeared. “Woman, why are you crying,” they ask. “Because,” she chokes out, “They have stolen the body of my Lord, and I don’t know what they have done with it.” She turns away from the tomb and is startled by a man standing in front of her. She is half-turned away from this impediment in her way when He spoke. “Woman, why are you crying? Tell me for whom you are searching.” Not looking at him, she mistakes the man for the gardener and thinks, “Here is a man who may be able to tell me what they have done with Jesus’ body.” “Sir,” she pleads, “If you have had to move him, please tell me where. I will take his body off your hands.” There is a slight pause. Then, He speaks again. Just one word. Her name; “Mary.” As two questions collide in her head, “How does he know my name?” and “Why is that voice is so very familiar?” it begins to strike her who He was. She whirls around and sees Him. It is Jesus! Her voice shaking with wonder and love and relief, she too responds with one word, “Master.” Later, this day Jesus appears to the other women who, having left the tomb, are on their way to report to the remaining of the Eleven. That evening He will appear to the Eleven. Well, to ten. Thomas refuses the company of the others. Two other disciples had decided to get out of Dodge—Jerusalem. He will make an appearance to them. They will return to Jerusalem. But, first He had appeared to Mary. Only afterward, as others tell their experience of having seen the Risen Lord, does Mary realize she was the first! Jesus had appeared to her first! A woman! One who had been possessed with seven demons! One who had lived so wickedly! One who had been shunned by society! Today, I reserve my commentary to one note, a quote from Jesus Himself. No reflection on the Resurrection and all it ramifications could result in a more concise conclusion: “Because I live, you will live also!” --Jesus May we realize Jesus is truly risen from the dead. People today are still encountering the Risen Lord. If you have not, because He is risen, you could run into Him today. If you do, you will know it is He. He will have known where to find you. He will know your name. There will be something about how He speaks to you. If that happens, there is but one response, “Master.” Jesus lives! Scriptures: Matt. 28:1-20; Mark 16:1-20; Luke 24:1-53; John 20:1-25
who will step behind the microphones?
Bro. Clifford Hurst 03/22/2020
It has been a daily specter during this Corona Crisis to watch a leader step up to a waiting bank of microphones flanked by authorities and task force members. At times, it has been a mayor who has stepped up to the microphones to address his city’s denizens. On many other occasions, it has been the governor who has stepped behind them to give further, more restrictive and drastic directives to the residents of his state. More frequently, it has been our president. He steps up to the waiting microphones to address and calm the citizens of our nation. Recently, the cameras were trained on the empty podium, its anterior bristling with the microphones of scores of news agencies. Eyes of reporters and viewers everywhere were riveted on the empty lectern waiting for the president to step up behind it to address the nation on the pandemic that is spreading fear and ravaging the market. All were waiting. Waiting for answers. Waiting for help. Waiting for calm. Waiting for a way forward. It was then that it became so presciently clear: One day in a moment of world crisis, like the present one, it will not be a mayor, governor, or president that will step behind the podium; it will be the prophesied Antichrist. The Antichrist will be the one who appears behind the waiting microphones and addresses, not only the inhabitants of a city, state, or nation, but the inhabitants of the world. He will mesmerize with calming words. He will amaze with solutions and answers. He will impress with unsurpassed intellect. Women will swoon with infatuation. Academics will stare with gaping mouths at the luminosity of his ideas. Politicians will concede the superbness of his plans. Reporters will rave at his brilliance. Stock markets will ascend, as he speaks, to unprecedented heights. Skies will appear to brighten with hope, peace, and prosperity. Muslims will shout their Al Mahdi has come; Jews, their Messiah; nominal, ecumenical Christians, their Jesus. It will happen. Perhaps not this pandemic. Maybe not a following crisis. But, soon, in the throes of world chaos that will make all previous crises pale, the cameras will be trained on the empty podium, the reporters, sitting silent their pencils poised over their pads—fingers hovering over their devices keypad--the crowd, silent, barely breathing. All waiting. Waiting for answers. Waiting for hope. Waiting for peace. Waiting for The One to speak to them. Then, the Antichrist will step behind the microphones. This is not disconcerting for we followers of Jesus Christ. We do not look for the one who will step up to the bank of microphones but for the One who will step down on a bank of clouds; not for the Antichrist, but for The true Christ. When He does appear, may we each be in that number flanking Him, coming with Him. He truly will bring peace.
Bro. Clifford Hurst 03/08/2020
The lady seeking to enter MacDonald’s just in front of me—I was not close enough to act the gentleman-- took the time to pull her jacket sleeve down over her hand before grasping the handle to open the door. By that time I had stepped just behind her, and she, seeing me, commented on her action: “I don’t want to catch that Corona virus. You never know who may have it.” I laughed and confessed my own germaphobia, “I’m the same way.” What the lady had feared was a carrier of the disease having touched the handle before she had. The disease originated on the other side of the earth. It came to America because someone carried it here. This morning I read where a cruise ship off the California coast was being denied docking. Why? The fear of a carrier. Weeks ago, our President closed our borders to any coming from nations of the origin of the pandemic. Why? Fear of a carrier. Carriers are feared. Not for who they are but for what they spread. The lady made me think all of this about carriers because I had just recently heard “carrier” used in a whole new way, a positive way. I had been listening to revival historian Matthew Backholer recount about the spread of the 1857 revival in New York across the U.S. and then to Ireland. Doing so, Backholer said, “Some folks were carriers of revival.” Revivals—seasons of God making His presence known to reinvigorate the Church and reach a community—do spread; and, it’s carriers that spread it. Some carriers have experienced revival at their home location and then travel to another place sharing their experience. Others hear of revival at another place, go there, and carry their experience back home. In the 1906 Azusa revival, folks made the pilgrimage there from all over the U.S. and the world, experienced that revival, and carried it back home. At Ausbury College in 1970 in February, revival struck during a Tuesday morning chapel. The service continued unceasingly for days. As the service continued, students and others, as they were led of God, left the school and traveled many miles by ground and air to share at other colleges and churches. They carried the revival. A virus in the body can be carried. Evidently, so can a revival in the soul. Both seem infectious to those susceptible to them. We need carriers of the move, presence, and experience of God. Not carriers to traverse the continent to another town or carriers that would cross the ocean to come to us. We need carriers that come from the back bedroom where they have sought God and bring their renewed spirit to Church. We need carriers who will come from the Church’s prayer room and bring the moving of the Spirit they feel in their hearts into the sanctuary for the worship service. And we need carriers who will carry the Gospel and experience of God from the sanctuaries of our churches to the lost of workplace, school, home, places of business, etc., of our communities. If the fear of a potential spread of the Corona virus via its carriers can cause such upheaval, change of behavior, concern, if it can have such affect on everything from the stock market, to schools, to the venues of healthcare, to the halls of government, what a powerful affect an actual visitation of God on His people would have on this nation as its carriers spread it through the networks of their lives. Such are carriers to welcome and not fear.
i have nothing to say
Bro. Clifford Hurst 03/01/2020
Traveling home with the week drawing to a close, I realized that time was running out on my self-imposed goal to write a blog for our church bulletin every week. But what was more exasperating than the panic of running out of time was that I found myself thinking, “I have nothing to say.” Now, I don’t want to be like the one asked to share to a group who begins with, “I don’t have anything to say,” and then commences to ramble on and on and proves it by voicing whatever stray thought that meanders erratically through the ether of his gray matter. But I got stuck on the thought that “I have nothing to say.” Then, I saw a cartoon of two personified worms. One says to the other, “I have nothing to say.” The other responds, “You should blog about it.” Cartoons inspire me, so I will blog about it: What is going on when people say, “I have nothing to say”? Some say, “I have nothing to say,” because that is precisely where they find themselves. They’ve drawn a blank. They have no thoughts, opinion, etc. Others say “I have nothing to say,” because they are afraid of making any comment that will incriminate them. They know they are in the wrong. They don’t want to give any proof by saying anything. Then, there are those who have been hurt. The perpetuator of their pain tries to engage them in conversation. They respond, “I have nothing to say.” They either don’t want to or feel they can’t reconcile. Some’s “I have nothing to say” comes from the observation that those who have been speaking on a subject have already exhausted it. There is nothing to add. Sometime folks say, “I have nothing to say,” because they either have no interest in joining a conversation or they have disdain for it or those engaged in it. Some exclaim, “I have nothing to say,” because they are so surprised, overwhelmed, left speechless over an act of kindness, generosity, or thoughtfulness done for them. For others “I have nothing to say,” is a dismissal: “The thing is done; nothing I say is going to change things.” Then there are those who say “I have nothing to say” because, they already said what they wanted to say. It may be shocking, but I believe that God is one of these. God is saying, “I have nothing to say,” but, He would add, “other than what I have already said.” And what has God said? “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, …” (Heb 1:1-2). What has God said? Jesus! God has spoken via nature, prophets, poets, singers, and the voice of the conscience. But, His final word, His greatest word, His loudest word, is Jesus. Truly, there is nothing more to be said. Not by Mohammed. Not by Joseph Smith. Not by an angel. Not by any who would offer a new revelation from God. Jesus is what God has and is saying to us. Why isn’t God saying something about what is going on in the world? Why isn’t God speaking today? He has already said what He is going to say. He has left nothing more that needs to be said, that could be said. He has spoken Jesus. I am not a cessationist. I’m a Pentecostal. I don’t believe that God is silent. I am not saying God no longer speaks. I am saying He has nothing to say but what He has said by, through, and in Jesus. Yes, God uses people to reiterate what He has said. He gifts people to share it in a way that is refreshing, poignantly applicable, precisely addressing of circumstances and needs. But, if it is truly God saying it, what will be heard is “Jesus.” Nothing said will be different or in addition to what is in the Bible and the Bible is our source of all we accurately know about Jesus. So, I guess that, although I spent a lot of space saying I have nothing to say, I truly have nothing to say other than “Jesus.” That’s enough. Jesus says it all.
god didn’t buy our vote
Bro. Clifford Hurst 02/23/2020
For the last two days, I have been thinking about Michael Bloomberg—not about voting for him but about what his opponents are saying about him. They are charging him of trying to buy the nomination for the presidency. Billionaire Bloomberg has been spending hundreds of millions in an attempt to become his party’s candidate. Even if I were a member of that party, I would have no problem with that. Why? First, I do not believe that spending millions on campaigning is buying an election. Buying an election is in some way giving money to voters to purchase the assurance of their vote. I must explain: Bloomberg can spend billions on advertising and still not buy voters’ esteem, favor, respect, or love. The advertising may deceive them. It may even persuade a few of them to vote for the guy. But, with rare exception, it will not get them to like the guy or elect him. Now suppose he really did buy the nomination and eventual presidency. Suppose he, at least by proxy, was able to meet each voter before he went into the voting booth and promise him $10,000 dollars to vote Bloomberg. I believe a huge number would do so. Of course, in reality, many voters would, after voting for another, take the $10,000 knowing they could say they voted for Bloomberg and there would be no way for him to ascertain their truthfulness. But, hypothetically, most would take the money and vote for him. Bloomberg would buy the election. But, what he would NOT have purchased would be the voters’ respect, love, and admiration. Money is power. And, in our scenario, Bloomberg’s power assured his election, but not the love of those who voted for him. You may be asking what all of the above was about. It is really about this: In the modern push to extirpate God from people’s belief, the ancient problem of evil is ubiquitously being pushed upon people. In simple form it is this: You believe in an all-powerful, loving God? But, there is evil in the world that God does nothing about. Therefore, there can be no all-powerful, loving God. If your God exists, He either has the power to do something about the evil and suffering but doesn’t love humanity enough to do so, or He loves humanity and wants to do something about the suffering but doesn’t have the power to do so. I believe the Bible provides real, though difficult, answers to this conundrum. However, that is not my point today. My point is this: God’s response to suffering isn’t the exercise of His power but the demonstration of His character. God is all-powerful and could immediately eliminate all evil and its consequent suffering. So why hasn’t He? Because if God used His power to immediately and completely eradicate all evil, He would have to force people to stop hurting other people, make humanity stop sinning. He is powerful enough to do that. But, when He got done ridding the world of suffering by forcing humanity to be righteous, He would have not have gained people’s admiration, affection or love. That cannot be “bought.” They would not look at God and say, “How wonderful, loving, and holy God is. I just love Him.” They would not even credit Him with solving the problem of evil. They would say, “He bought the election,”--in the terms of our analogy. God has done something about evil and suffering; He entered into our suffering and bore our evil on a cruel cross. “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.” God has made the problem of evil about love not power. Folks cannot honestly look at what God has done about suffering and evil through Jesus’ hanging on the cross and not love, admire, and have affection for such a God. God didn’t use His power. In fact, He laid aside that power to give Himself to the evil hands of His crucifiers. We do not buckle under the power of God in coerced subjugation. We note and then surrender to His great love in the crucified Christ. It was the love of God, not the power of God, that solved the problem of suffering and evil. God has not bought our vote. He has earned it.
hugging a porcupine
Bro. Clifford Hurst 02/16/2020
Had it not been Valentine’s Day, the day of love and hugs, when I was hiking the mountainous Cochise Stronghold Trail, I probably wouldn’t have thought of it. High on a mountain ridge I veered off trail to get to the escarpment’s edge to take in the view of the valley below. Intent on the vista instead of where I was walking, I found myself suddenly, exclaiming, “That hurt!” as I jerked my foot back. I had run into the sharp spines of what I believe was some species of spiny agave. It was then I remembered something I used to say to our children when they were young: Sometimes, if one of them were in ill-humor or had just been disciplined and I tried to express love to them by hugging them, they would pull-back, scrunch their head down against their shoulders, and grimace with a pouting, stuck-out bottom lip. It was evident they didn’t want to be hugged. It was evident they wanted no part of an expression of love. I would then say to them, “It is hard to hug a porcupine.” Their attitude and rejecting body language were to them what quills are to a porcupine. Quills keep porcupines from being the prey of predators. Shrinking back, grimacing, and spouting contemptuous words keep others from being hugged by those who attempt to do so. When told they matter to others, some people remonstrate with protests that no one loves them or tries to show they do. They do not realize that others do attempt to show them love but they respond by pulling away, striking out, and reacting with caustic words. As a porcupine, they stick and stab whoever tries to hug them. Paradoxically, they pine for the very love and affectionate demonstration that they repel when efforts are made to express that love and affection to them. Sad. If only they would allow themselves to be loved, and, literally and metaphorically, hugged, they would receive the love they crave and need. In the end, we all are porcupines when it comes to God. God attempts to show His love and affection to us, and we so often respond with rebellion or bitterness or doubt or pride or, well you get the point, and so does God. We repel, draw back from, and reject His show of love; but that never stops God from demonstrating that love to us. Rather, it never stopped, I should say, God from demonstrating His love to us. Jesus, God in the flesh, a flesh with which He could hug, one day opened His arms wide to embrace all people with love, grace, and salvation. And He got stuck. With the thorns of a mock crown on His head and the sharp spikes through His hands and feet. Porcupine or no porcupine, who would reject love like that?
ripping the script—ure
Bro. Clifford Hurst 02/09/2020
At first, my mind could not register what I was seeing. Over the left shoulder of the President of the United States who had just given his state-of-the-union speech, I saw the lady in white, the Speaker of the House, ripping up the script of the speech he had just given. Vehemently. With gritted teeth. With exaggerated motion. I don’t want to disappoint anyone, but I do not write of this to deify the President and demonize the Speaker of the House. I write because as she ripped the script, I thought of what many do to the Scripture. Actually, in the Speaker’s actions I saw something I once did:. Decades ago, when I was a young preacher I did, perhaps, an unwise thing. It did shock people. Behind the pulpit, I took out my pocket knife and began to select certain pages of a Bible* and cut them along the spine, pull them out, wad them up, and thrown them on to the floor in front of me. You can see why the specter of the Speaker reminded me of this. Before you deem me blasphemous or lunatic, let me explain what I was doing: I was illustrating a scene from the Bible. God gave a prophecy to Jeremiah of the judgment He would bring on His people and other nations and instructed him to write it upon a scroll. Jeremiah called in his secretary Baruch, dictated the prophecy for him to copy down, and, since the prophet was restrained from going himself, sent Baruch to the Temple to read it to the people. Some governmental officials heard the prophecy and sent for Baruch to come read it in the convened cabinet meeting. It so disturbed them that they sent Baruch into hiding, put the scroll in cabinet member’s safe, and sent word to the king. The king called for the scroll and one to read it to him. He was in his winter quarters before a cozy fire. As a few columns were read, the king cut them off the scroll with his knife and threw them into the fire. Soon, the scroll was read, but nothing remained of it but ashes on the hearth. I was illustrating the king’s disdain and mutilation of God’s Word. My application that day was that when folks dislike, disobey, disdain, demean, a part of God’s Word, they are in essence doing the same thing as the king did. They are saying we don’t need this part—cut it out. This part doesn’t apply—tear it out. This is outdated—rip it out. And thus, they dismiss God’s word from their lives. The people that day were likely appalled at my actions. Understandably so. Yet, I made a further point. People were horrified that I would treat God’s Word so disrespectfully yet do not read, study, memorize, or comply with its instructions. People feign great respect for the physical medium of God’s Word, the Bible. They would never rip a page out of their Bible. Yet, when the Word of God runs at cross-purposes of how they want to live, what they want to believe, instead of doing what is necessary to align themselves with the Word, they want to get rid of the conflicting Scripture. They relegate it to another time and culture. They mutilate its intended meaning, bending its words into pretzel shape to accommodate their convoluted opinions and rebellious behavior. As the king dismissed, cut each just-read section off the scroll and threw it in the fire, bit by bit he burned the Word from God until nothing was left. Or, so he thought. He could no more get rid of the Word of God by destroying it’s medium, than the Speaker of the House could get rid of the President’s speech by ripping it up. The President had already given his speech. His message was out. It was heard, recorded, and written down. God has spoken His Word. There is no getting rid of it. As, the psalmist declared, “Forever, Oh Lord, thy Word is settled in heaven.” God’s word is permanent. Nothing I can do can get rid of it, erase what it says. One can try to rip up God’s Word, but will only succeed in ripping out his place in the Book of life. (Rev. 22:19). The Speaker ripped up the President’s script. Many rip up God’s Scripture. In both cases, the message lives on! *In the days before computers and word processors I would acquire inexpensive Bibles from which I would cut verses to paste into my sermon notes. I believe it would have been one of these Bibles.
Bro. Clifford Hurst 02/02/2020
There is something that I presented in our annual department head meeting that, when shared later in private conversations, seemed to resonate. Perhaps, they were only being kind, but those with whom I shared told me it was helpful. Having a mind blank of anything else to blog, I decided to rehearse it here. Although it was originally packaged specifically for folks serving in ministry in the church, it seems applicable to anyone who engages in trying to help folks whatever the venue might be. Of perhaps any other endeavor, ministry is the most difficult to gauge its effectiveness. The temptation is to use quantitative metrics: How many? How large? How often? How far? Those metrics may work for a business, but not so much for ministry. Because of this, one can become discouraged trying to help folks. I have found that there is a digressing disappointment of seeking to help folks and not seeing the anticipated results. In the first-person expression of any who would experience it, the digression is this: 1. “I am not helping people.” Despite my intentions, efforts, and desire, I am not really being effective, making a difference, accomplishing anything. 2. “People do not want to be helped.” This perception permeates and then solidifies as it appears people are not responding to, listening to, cooperating with, or appreciating my attempts to be helpful. 3. “People cannot be helped.” At first the thought is “if people don’t want help, they can’t be helped.” Then, I begin to believe that folks can’t be helped because their needs are just too great. I see the depravity and dilemma of folks, how messed up their lives are, what Gordian knots their sins have tied into their existence, and, from human perspective, they simply cannot be helped. 4. “I no longer want to help.” This last perception in the digression is really the worst and the most paralyzing. By “I no longer want to help,” I don’t mean I no longer want to help people, but that I no longer want to go through this thing of trying to help people only to be disappointed. It becomes too despairing, too painful, too frustrating, too exacting. All that may seem melancholically morose, but it is a reality. I probably need to wait on next week’s space to answer each of those respectively and individually, but for now, feeling for those who find themselves somewhere on this spectrum, I submit a general response: The Apostle Paul said, “Let us not grow weary in well-doing.” I often read that at appropriate moments and then query in an exaggerated tone, “Now, why in the world would Paul write that?” There is but one answer: Because we get weary in well doing. There has never been a farmer, prior to today’s age of air-conditioned, computer-driven, robot-loaded equipment, who has not become weary plowing and planting and weeding. Not, if he was really plowing, planting, weeding, etc., and, especially in the context of his experience of recent droughts, storms, and attacks of pests. Paul follows with why we should not let weariness win, “for in due season we shall reap if we faint not.” We shall reap! We have something to do with the plowing and planting; but, we cannot bring about that which will be reaped. There will be a harvest, but, it will be God that brings it about. And, only He can. Since autumn, I have noticed nearby fields recently prepped and plowed by farmers. Yet, here it is winter, though an uncommonly mild one. Thing is, not one of those farmers who have done all that work expect a harvest right now. It’s the wrong season. Yet, the harvest, when it comes, will be the ultimate result of their efforts in a season when nothing was growing, a season of no inspiring green, only old dull, discouraging browns and grays. Weariness must not win; not with a promised harvest coming. We usually have plucked the promise above out of Scripture as a quick prescription to ingest. And, that is fine. We rarely, however, note the following verse: “As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith. (Gal 6:10). “Therefore,” in conclusion, keep trying to help folks. Start with those right there in your church and work your way out from there. You ARE helping folks! Weariness must not win!
trail magic on the snt
Bro. Clifford Hurst 01/26/2020
One of the genres I enjoy for my recreational reading at night is memoirs of long-distance hikers, particularly those of thru-hikers of the Appalachian (2,200 mi) and Pacific Crest (2,650 mi) Trails. I would love to hike those trails but am cursed with being a magnet to mosquitoes and being an insomniac. I can’t sleep in a comfortable bed and can’t begin to bear the thought of trying to sleep on the ground with mosquitoes feasting on me. But, from my comfortable bed I can vicariously hike those trails. One thing that has intrigued me, as I’ve read these stories, is a phenomenon which each thru-hiker gratefully recounts—trail magic. “Trail magic” is the expression hikers use to describe occurrences of good fortune or acts of unexpected kindness they experience along the trail—something that meets a need, lifts their spirits, and inspires awe and gratitude. Trail magic can be unintentional, chanced coincidences; for example, the PCT hiker whose account I’m currently reading had lost his essential eating utensil and was miles from any place where he could purchase another. As he walked, discouraged by its loss, he saw a glint in the desert sand. Bending down, he uncovered an ancient camper’s eating utensil polished clean by decades of shifting sand. Like this example there is trail magic that just happens; however, most trail magic occurs intentionally and altruistically. Some comes from other hikers, for instance, one passing hiker hands another a protein bar or a bottle of water. But most trail magic happens because non-hikers respond with kindness out of respect for the hikers’ taking on the daunting challenge and, when aware of their needs, with empathy for what hikers suffer and require. Whatever the motive, they help the hiker further down the trail, closer to the goal. Examples of this intentional trail magic are trail angels’ (what those who provide trail magic are called) placing caches of water and food at strategic places on the trail, points too far from towns where hikers resupply, or, firing up a grill, where the trail passes close to a road or a picnic area in a park, and charcoaling hamburgers and hot-dogs next to a huge cooler full of ice-cold pop, all for hikers, or, their intentionally coming to ferry or extemporaneously stopping to carry hikers to town for re-supplying, rest, and restoration. Some trail magic happens when trail angels who have homes near the trail open them to hikers or allow them to camp in their yards, not only providing them shelter but a place to shower and home-cooked meals to eat. One morning, having fallen asleep the night before reading of trail magic, I rose to read my Bible, and there that morning were Jesus’ words about the Way that leads to life being “strait and narrow.” (Matt. 7:14). Perhaps, it is my spiritual deficiency, but I noted to myself that hiking the strait and narrow often gets tough and one’s strength gets depleted and his soul discouraged. Then, I thought, “Do not we hikers of the SNT (Strait and Narrow Trail) also experience trail magic? Do not we, in an exacting, tough stretch, laboring to put one foot in front of the other run smack dab, head on into a blessing God has cached on the trail?” It may be as simple as the very song you need to hear beginning to play on your car stereo. Or, it could be the Holy Spirit’s orchestrating someone to share in worship the very sermon, song, or testimony that addressed your inner turmoil. Do we not encounter trail angels? Yes, even on the SNT God uses trail angels to provide most of the trail magic: There is that unexpected, inspirational card that comes in the mail. Out of nowhere you get a text that says, “Thinking and praying for you.” You are praying at church and someone slips an arm around you and begins to pray with and for you. Rather than my listing more examples, why don’t you begin to think of the trail magic you have experienced in the SNT? Doing so, you will see there are true trail angels in your life--folks who are always encouraging, listening, praying, helping. We Christians rightly dislike the word “magic” because of its occultic connotations, and I mean no offense; but, using the term as thru-hikers do, I say to all us SNT thru-hikers, “Thank, God, for trail magic!” Perhaps, there is one thing more satisfying than being a recipient of trail magic—being a trail angel to someone who needs the magic.
“nothing, i don’t need anything.”
Bro. Clifford Hurst 01/19/2020
Prior to this past Christmas I found myself saying something I previously had only heard elderly folk say. My wife plied the question: “I need some ideas for what to get you for Christmas. What do you want?” That’s when I said it: “Nothing, I don’t need anything”—which translates as, “I’m not wanting (desiring) anything.” I was both startled to hear the words coming out of my mouth and saddened. I was saddened, not that I had just revealed myself as officially having become “old,” but also because I had lost joy in the yearning for some special gift, the anticipation of the prospect of receiving it, and the thrill upon opening it. This was a right of passage I did not welcome. I should have just felt a warm satisfaction that if I did not need anything and did not want anything, I was blessed and content. Being blessed and content are grounds for deep gratitude. Yet, I was saddened upon recognizing I was no longer excited about getting something I had been longing for. My having lost that desire and saying, “I don’t need anything,” was in reference to material things. My melancholy musings over this loss of need/desire for a Christmas gift, compelled me to think of how much a greater sadness I should experience when I find myself responding the same way in reference to spiritual things. Today, our church begins revival services—consecutive services scheduled with the anticipation of and opportunity for seeking spiritual renewal. Just the advent of the services begs the question of each in our church including myself: “What do you want?” It is a sad state to be indeed when our visceral response is what mine was to the inquiry of what I wanted for Christmas. “Nothing, I don’t need anything.” Materially, that response may indicate contentment and blessing. Spiritually, it indicates a very unhealthy spiritual state, one of apathy, complacency, dullness, or other non-salubrious conditions. Spiritually, to say “I don’t need anything” is really a confession saying, “I don’t want anything.” Or, vice versa. Spiritually, it is very easy to confuse our needing and our wanting. It is easy to conclude that, if I do not desire something spiritual, I do not need something spiritual. In fact, the one with the greatest spiritual need is the one who supposes he has no spiritual need. To not desire spiritual things is to be in desperate need of spiritual things. A definite indicator of dire physical illness is chronic loss of appetite. None need to eat like those who have lost the desire to eat. To have no spiritual appetite indicates a great spiritual need. All of this speaks to the dichotomy between perceived and real needs. All this about Christians’ saying, “Nothing, I don’t need anything,” really happens. It is a real spiritual sentiment, one for which Jesus rebuked the Church of Laodicea: “ ... thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing…” (Rev. 3:17a). There they said it: “Nothing, I don’t need anything.” Their self-assessment was arrogantly inaccurate. Jesus continued: “and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked:” (Rev. 3:17b). Their perceived need was grossly incongruent with their real need. When I responded to the question about a Christmas gift with “Nothing, I don’t need anything,” I felt content, satisfied, and a bit proud for my humble lack of lust for material things. In response to the prospects of revival when I say, “Nothing, I don’t need anything,” I should feel alarm of what decayed and degraded spiritual shape I’m in. Both are saddening. It’s too early to make a 2020 Christmas list of gifts we’d like to receive. But, perhaps, we should ask God to help us make a 2020 revival list of things we really need.
want to scrap psalm 23?
Bro. Clifford Hurst 01/12/2020
Staring at an online bio of myself, posted long ago, my thoughts riveted on the description of my graduate degree—Bible Literature with Old Testament Emphasis. The degree name was correct, but I was thinking, “If anyone ever happens to read that, they are going to be wondering ‘Why the OT emphasis?’ and, thinking, ‘That degree must be so irrelevant and useless’.” The OLD Testament, to many, seems, well, so old, antiquated, primitive. I am sympathetic to Jews who find our designation of our Bible’s two sections, “The Old Testament” and “The New Testament” as being derogatory of their Scriptures, our OT. The “Old” and “New” designations imply the first section is outdated, superseded, abrogated and replaced by the superior, relevant second section. Most have even forgotten that “Testament” means “Covenant.” Personally, I’d prefer we called our Bible sections First Covenant and Second Covenant, as in the first expression of God’s covenant with His people and the second expression of God’s covenant with His people; but, I don’t have space for all that, and it’s not going to happen anyways. My concern is this: I have observed that, when church denominations, movements, and people begin to jettison orthodox doctrine, experience, and traditions, almost always, there is an accompanying disdaining, belittling, and rejecting of the OT as invalid, valueless, and irrelevant for today. Those who do so will say disparaging things about the OT. Normally, I respond to such discounting of the OT with textual/historical polemics: The NT begins with reference to the OT; Jesus applied the OT to Himself and included it in His teaching; Peter in the first sermon to the Church, the lay preachers, and other apostles, according to the record of the NT, all preached from the OT. The record also shows that the OT was the Bible of the NT believers. And, on and on the reasons could go. But, this week something more anecdotal struck me. From the beginning it has been the aberrant, heretical movements in Christianity that have expressed contempt for the OT (though there are also many who get their aberrant views from the OT). In just the 2nd century the heretic Marcion and his followers purported that the OT had nothing to offer NT believers. What I learned this week was particularly disturbing: The Nazis waged a successful campaign in Germany to eliminate the use of the OT from Christian faith in order to garner Christian and Church support for their horrific deeds, especially against Jews. Admittedly, that is anecdotal, but it is still shouting something to those who would abandon the OT. Could the state of our nation and Christianity today not be connected with the fact the OT’s validity and relevance has suffered from a constant barrage from academia, pundits, and college-student parrots, having never read or understood the OT, claiming that the OT presents a xenophobic, chauvinistic, homophobic, genocidal God of cruelty? I am sure this is why huge blocks of the Church are going off the rails of orthodoxy in capitulating to modern societal demands that are in stark, undeniable defiance of clear Scripture principles and precepts; for example, accepting society’s and not the Biblical definition of marriage. A contemporary influential church leader, Andy Stanley, suggests that Christians should liberate their beliefs from the OT. To me, it appears the OT must be a powerful force if there is such animus against it and if the jettisoning of it brings such degrading, dangerous, and unholy changes. So maybe a degree with OT Emphasis isn’t an unnecessary, antiquated thing after all. I think our preaching, believing, living, political views, and NT faith, etc., could stand a good OT Emphasis. In the words of a Southern Gospel Song, “I think I will read it again…”. Not just the NT; but, the whole Bible including the OT. Addendum: Would you really want to scrap Psalm 23, a part of the OT?
it just takes a nobody
Bro. Clifford Hurst 01/05/2020
Sometimes a novel observation jolts you because you realize instinctively that it reflects reality. I was listening to one of Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History podcasts when he made such an observation as an illustration for the larger topic: He brought up Lee Harvey Oswald’s assassinating President John F. Kennedy and noted that many still do not believe that Lee acted alone but was part of a larger conspiracy. Then he made this observation which I paraphrase: “I feel that many are drawn to conspiracy theories because they simply cannot believe that a nobody acting alone can have so much impact on human events and history.” He is correct on folks’ tendency to believe conspiracy theories. Even after five thorough, independent investigations a majority of people surveyed still believe that there was “another shooter on the grassy knoll.” Or, that Lee Harvey Oswald was acting as a Russian agent and pawn. Carlin was not addressing the evidence and whether or not people should believe Lee acted alone. He was addressing why people want to believe he didn’t. President Kennedy’s assassination did have tremendous impact on our nation and on the world. Could a nobody be responsible for that? All on his own? I thought of another nobody. Lee Harvey was an evil nobody. I thought of a good nobody—Jesus. In the eyes of the society of the time, Jesus was a nobody. He was a member of a conquered people. He was from a poor family in a backwater town in a backwoods territory of a small, backcountry, vassal nation. He had no educational degrees, no financial holdings, no heroic accomplishments. To Rome, He was a nobody. To the Jewish leadership, He was a nobody. To His own hometown, He was a nobody. To His own siblings, He was a nobody. Yet, without doubt, this Nobody impacted the world more than any other human who has ever lived. Period. If we made a list of all the effects this Nobody had on human history and human existence—from religion to medicine to education to science to civilization, etc.—that list would fill volumes. And note: From the very day of His resurrection until today, conspiracy theories have been devised to try to explain His impact: The disciples stole His body. The NT authors made up stories. The manuscripts were intentionally, contrivedly, altered. The Church fabricated and then foisted beliefs on people. Always a conspiracy. Never just acceptance that this Nobody changed the world—and, still, changes people. I am by no means declaring our Savior a Nobody. He is without equal. He is Supreme. I am noting how He was viewed by His world. He was just a poor, Galilean carpenter, a want-a-be teacher. He was a nobody. But, none have ever had the impact He has had. I would say that most of us feel like nobodies. We should be encouraged that nobodies can make a difference. We can impact lives. Not like the evil nobody Lee Harvey Oswald, but like the good nobody Jesus Christ. It doesn’t take a conspiracy. Just a nobody.
penguins and joy to the world
Bro. Clifford Hurst 12/29/2019
Something bugged me more than usual this past Christmas season. It had to do with the North Pole. It wasn’t just that the North Pole gets incorporated into Christmas as part of the whole Santa-supplants-Christ in the secularizing and commercializing of Christmas stratagem. It’s the penguins. Increasingly at Christmas time penguins are an added feature to the whole North Pole scene in displays, movies, songs, and games. Penguins at The Pole seemed more ubiquitous than ever this past Christmas. There’s only one problem with penguins at Christmas, and it’s not just that none were at the original Nativity. It is that there are no penguins at the North Pole. Never have been--except for a displaced few in an unsuccessful attempt to transplant them. Natively, there are no penguins in the Arctic. Cold water penguins basically live in the southern hemisphere, at the South Pole, thousands of miles from Santa’s workshop at the North Pole. (There are also no polar bears at the South Pole where one will find penguins. Evidently, for obvious reasons, polar bears and penguins don’t mix well.). So, there you have it. Despite their constant appearances this past holiday season, penguins have absolutely nothing to do with Christmas. Neither does one of the most popular Christmas carols. It’s true: One of the most popular, frequently sung Christmas carols, one I enjoy singing more than all the rest in Christmas worship, isn’t a Christmas carol. That would be Joy To The World. Its author Isaac Watts was preaching a series from the psalms in the early 1700’s. He wrote Joy To The World after reflecting on Psalms 98. Psalm 98 is a song to be sung after the final redemption of God’s people. Joy To The World is about when that final redemption takes place—at Jesus’ SECOND coming. Then, Jesus will rule the nations and will remove the curse from all nature. “Joy to the World…let earth receive her King.” Not as the Babe in the manger, but the Holy King with flashing eyes of fire and a rod of iron. As penguins belong to the South Pole and not the North, Joy To The World belongs to Christ’s Second Coming and not His first. Technically, we don’t have to pack up Joy To The World with the rest of our Christmas music and holiday decorations to await Christmas 2020. We can keep singing it. Jesus is coming again. Coming as King!. He will rule this world. From pole to pole and everywhere in between. Christmas is over. But, let’s sing it one more time: Joy To The World.
the midnight ride and the manger
Bro. Clifford Hurst 12/22/2019
This past week my thoughts of the infant Jesus sleeping in the manger merged with my thoughts of Paul Revere. Weird, right? I can thank Mr. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow for its happening. Describing the scene of Paul Revere taking his “midnight ride” to warn the American patriots of Lexington and Concord of the impending British attack, Longfellow notes ominously and presciently that around 2 am, when Revere approached the bridge to ride through Concord, “…one was safe and asleep in his bed Who at the bridge would be first to fall, Who that day would be lying dead, Pierced by a British musket-ball.” Sobering. One serenely asleep in the deep of the night would soon lie dead having sacrificed his life fighting for America’s freedom. What a contrast between the man slumbering peacefully in the comforts of his bed and his corpse later that day lying on the ground where it had bled dry of its blood through the gaping hole left by the British ball. That contrast brought another--the contrast of the cute, newborn Jesus, swaddled comfortably and securely, sleeping in the manger to that same Jesus slumped lifelessly on the cross the last of His blood draining from the gaping hole the spear had left in his side and from the other wounds suffered for our sins. Rarely do we think of the Babe of a serene Nativity scene fast asleep in the manger juxtaposition with His corpse hanging on the cross. The minute man of Concord long ago was peacefully asleep at the beginning of his day and tragically lay dead at the end of it. Jesus was peacefully asleep at the beginning of His life as an infant and violently crucified as an adult at the end. In both cases, the sacrifice was for our freedom. Of course, Jesus rose again! I hope I didn’t ruin your singing of “Away in the Manger,” this year with a vision of a Concord minute man’s white corpse lying where he had fallen. But, it could only inspire grateful worship if our minds went from the sleeping Child of the manger to the writhing, suffering, dying Savior on the Cross. Maybe this year the Silent Night will be broken with the sound of galloping horses’ hooves.
xmas: ex or chi?
Bro. Clifford Hurst 12/15/2019
X gets around. It shows up to cross out something on a list, to mark a spot on map, to indicate where to sign a document, to refer to a one’s divorced spouse, to stand for an unknown quality in an equation, to designate a certain generation, to represent a gender chromosome, and to prompt multiplication. And, it shows up in Xmas, an informal, some say sacrilegious, abbreviated substitute for Christmas. Only it doesn’t. That isn’t an ex in Xmas. What is it? It is a chi (kee). A chi is the 22nd letter of the New Testament’s Greek alphabet. I grew up being told that the ex in Xmas was the effort and evidence of the godless element of society’s plot to secularize and commercialize Christmas. They used Xmas to ex out Christ. Personally, I think people write Xmas, not because they’re antichrist, but because they’re lazy and it’s easier to write than Christmas. Whatever the reason for its usage, those who thought they were writing ex-mas, were really writing chi-mas. The confusion comes from the English ex and the Greek chi appearing the same--X. So, what does the X in Xmas stand for? The reason has to do with fish. Christ’s name in Greek begins with a chi, X. You may remember that Christians from the earliest times used the symbol of a fish covertly to indicate they were Christians. They used the symbol of the fish because in Greek fish is ixthus. Ixthus is an acronym for Jesus (I) Christ (X) God’s (Th) Son (U) Savior (S). So, there it is: The X stands for Christ. Sometime near the year 1000 AD, English copyists, noting that the English X and the Greek X looked the same, began to use X to refer to Christ. Then, in the 1400’s, monks began to refer to Christmas (a mass celebrating Christ’s death, burial, resurrection.) as Xmas. There was no nefarious intent to X out Christ. However, no matter its nature, origin, and initial usage, X in Xmas will still be an ex in the vernacular of the English-speaking populace. Ask anyone on the street and, “It’s an ex, Dude.” If my aim were to get people to accept X’s not an ex but a chi, I would be wasting time. So, X that idea. But there is a thought to contemplate: It is notably interesting that historically X symbolically meant Christ but has come to mean NO-Christ. Also, X can be used for Christ, and it can be used to designate vile filth as in “X-rated.” What people do with the X, they do with Christmas—and every other good thing. They can make it good, or they can make it evil. Whether money, sex, drugs, guns, food, just whatever, what matters is what is done with it. X can stand for Christ or getting rid of Christ. Christmas can be our opportunity to worship and celebrate God’s gift of a Savior. Or, it can be used as a time of carnal indulgence and selfish acquisition. Perhaps, you’ve never considered it before, but will X to you be an ex or a chi?
what mickey mouse saw
Bro. Clifford Hurst 12/08/2019
In recent weeks many have been exuberant about the launch of Disney+. The streamer promises more family-friendly, clean offerings than the other filth-laden streamers. Some may want to debate that, but all the hoopla buzz about “Disney” made me think of a Norman Rockwell painting of Mickey Mouse. Mickey is sitting in front of a mirror an easel between him and the mirror. The scene is that of an artist sketching a self-portrait. Mickey is sketching himself as he sees himself in the mirror. Now, as we look at Rockwell’s painting, we see both Mickey before the mirror and the reflected Mickey in the mirror. But, Mickey, sketching what he sees in the mirror has sketched Walt Disney, whose likeness we see on the canvas on the easel. Mickey is a creation of Walt Disney. Thus, in the mirror image of himself, Mickey sees his creator. I know Rockwell isn’t Scripture, but I see some remarkable truths in his painting. (I am not suggesting Rockwell intended these.) First, take a good look at humanity. Despite its many flaws, foibles, and fallenness, the depraved, distorted, disfigured humanity yet bears the image of its Creator. God’s image is yet there. Second, this is truly God’s predestined purpose for believers and should be the yearning of our hearts—that we should grow in the likeness and image of our Creator/Redeemer, Jesus. Looking in the mirror of the Word, we often see reflected back our sinfulness, ugliness, marred-ness. But, through salvation, sanctification, transformation, and growth, we can begin to see in our lives the likeness of Jesus. Third, whether it is Mickey or us, it is a wondrous illumination to look in a mirror and see our Creator, to know we are not the product of matter plus time plus chance. But, there is something more remarkable: What if the Creator were to look in the mirror at Himself and see His creation? Though mirrors of Jesus’ time were polished brass and not the superior glass ones of today, it is possible there was an occasion when He encountered one—though not in his poor carpenter’s hovel. Did Jesus ever see Himself in a mirror? If so, what did He see? The Creator would have looked in the mirror and have seen His creation. Jesus, the Creator, became, flesh, humanity, us, His creation. Herein is the wonder of the virgin birth, the incarnation. The Creator, looking into a mirror would have seen us, His creation. He became us; he was born, lived, and died like we. All to save us. You might want to Google Rockwell’s painting of Mickey’s self-portrait and take a look. For sure you should take another look at Apostle Paul’s Philippians 2:5-8 , “…Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” What a portrait those verses paint!
cancer, consolation, and cure
Bro. Clifford Hurst 12/01/2019
Many times, I have watched the following happen at church. (I am going to provide some fictitious names to make this easier to tell, but the details are real.): Usually, these things become known during prayer request time; it is in such a time of sharing needs that Sue reveals that it has just been discovered she has a serious, life-threatening form of cancer. Someone in the congregation seems more particularly attuned to her news than others. That would be Anne. Anne is a survivor of that very cancer. After the service, following Sue’s disclosure of her condition, I from across the sanctuary watch Anne go to Sue and to begin talking with her. Undoubtedly, Anne broaches the conversation with something like, “I had that very cancer you have. I know what you’re going through.” The empathy on Anne’s face is real, and her voice conveys great concern as she shares insights she learned in her battle with the disease. I see Sue’s face lighten, her head lift a bit, although she is still shocked and burdened by her news. In Anne, she has found an understanding kindred spirit. As pastor, I am grateful for the encouragement and help Anne is being, the consolation she’s offering. A cancer survivor can bolster and strengthen one who has just gotten the news in a way a person who’s never had cancer possibly can. The understanding, empathy, and encouragement is palpable and real. I know Sue must be grateful for Anne. But, let’s create another scenario of Anne’s conversation with Sue. Suppose Anne begins with the same “I had that very cancer. I know what you are going through.” But from there she continues, “I didn’t have the cancer, but I volunteered for a study.” (This is a hypothetical. Such a study, I’m sure, the CDC conceivably would not allow). Anne continues, “I allowed them to genetically engineer my cells so I would contract this cancer. As the cancer developed and enveloped my body, researchers studied it closely and tried different treatments of new drugs on me. I suffered horribly—both from the cancer and the treatment. However, eventually they found a cure. I no longer have cancer. I know there is a cure for this. I know you can be cured! I know because it was through my suffering the antidote was discovered.” In this scene, Sue is going to feel more than empathy and understanding. Sue is going to experience overwhelming gratefulness and hope at the same moment. Anne not only had the cancer Sue has, Anne purposely allowed herself to be inoculated with Sue’s cancer so that a cure might be developed for it. Make no mistake. Jesus had no sin. But, He “became sin,” bore our sins, and suffered horribly for it on the cross. It was that suffering that yielded a cure for our sin. His suffering resulted in our saving. In the first scenario, Anne gave Sue consolation. In the second, she gave her a cure. Jesus has more than consolation to offer us. He has a cure. (see Isa. 53).
thanking god for his “studying”
Bro. Clifford Hurst 11/24/2019
Really, I’m not fishing for compliments or “Thank you”s. It has happened a few times before. It just struck and stuck with me this time. So many people are so thoughtful, kind, and, perhaps, pitying that often I receive “Thank you”s for a sermon I’ve preached. But this past week a brother didn’t thank me for the sermon. Instead he said, “I want to thank you for all the long, hard hours you spend studying before you preach.” I certainly appreciated his “Thank you” but could not help thinking of what he had actually done. He had given thanks for what went into something and not just for the something. He had given thanks for what went on behind the scenes and not just for the scene. He had given thanks for the preparation and not for the production. We often don’t do that. We don’t think to. We enjoy a wonderful steak dinner at a restaurant, and we thank the server. That’s the right, good thing to do and convenient; the server’s right there. Much less rarely do we thank the cook who grilled the steak, baked the potato, and blanched the broccoli. Probably never does anyone go thank the rancher who raised the beef from which the steak came, the migrant worker who dug up the potato, or the farmer who cultivated the broccoli. Often, we thank God for saving us. That is the product, so to speak. Rarely do we thank God for the hard stuff that went into His saving us. We thank God for having forgiven our sins. But our sins were only forgiven because Jesus shed His blood in death on the cross. So, we give thanks to Jesus for dying on the cross, the reason we can be forgiven. But there is some hard stuff God did even before the cross. Stuff way back: First, God wanted to save us. That’s hard stuff. Why would He desire to save God-mocking, self-centered, law-breaking rebels? Then, God took the initiative. There would be no cross, no forgiveness, no salvation had not God took the initiative. From the first alienating sin of the first humans, it was God who came looking for them—to renew them to fellowship and clothe their nakedness. God took the initiative to save us by devising a plan, the plan of salvation. Lastly, God implemented that plan at great sacrifice to Himself and His Son. What must it have “cost” God to send His only begotten Son? What must it have taken for Jesus to come willing and be executed by the most excruciating method ever invented—the cross? I am eternally grateful for the final product, the salvation of my soul. I say, “Thank you, God, for saving my soul.” But I also want to thank God for what was behind His saving me. “Thank you, God, for wanting to save me. Thank you, God, for taking the initiative and devising a plan to save me. And, God, thank you that at great cost you gave your only begotten Son, Jesus. And, Jesus, thank you for willingly, readily, without reservation giving your life to save me.” In the words of an old hymn, “Thank you, God, for sending Jesus; thank you, Jesus that you came, Holy Spirit won’t you tell me, more about His wondrous name.”
“i have a plan for that!”
Bro. Clifford Hurst 11/17/2019
I have a plan for that!” This claim has become the infamous, monotonous drumbeat, the unofficial campaign slogan, of one of the leading candidates in the Democratic primary for the U.S. Presidential election: “I have a plan for that.” For each of America’s looming and dooming problems, this candidate has “a plan for that.” Most ubiquitously notorious among her plans is “Medicare for All.” However great a plan that sounds to some, commonsense quickly assesses her plan as ludicrous and prohibitively costly. It is so ludicrous because it is so costly. A grade-schooler could do the math. It’s simply not possible to pay for that plan. And, it wouldn’t work if implemented. The reason this mantra of “I have a plan for that” is so appealing is because America does have huge problems that beg solving. Concerned people do like to hear that there is a plan for persistent, serious problems and crises—and for prospects beyond the problems of a brighter more prosperous future. This candidate was not the first to proclaim, “I have a plan for that” to a serious problem. God Himself said, “I have a plan for that.” Humanity had a serious problem of having made a mess of things, especially themselves, and could not straighten it out. There were no solutions except the ineffectual denying there was a problem. The problem was sin, lostness, alienation from God, hopelessness, purposelessness, all rolled up together. God said, “I have a plan for that.” God’s plan could also be deemed both ludicrous and prohibitively costly. Yet, despite its arguably being so, it worked. God’s plan was to send His Son Jesus to die for the world’s sin, and through anyone’s acceptance of that act, rescue him from sin and give him eternal life. His plan was to take away sin and its wages and to give him an abundant life of purpose and meaning right now and eternal life that continues after death. His plan seemed ludicrous: How could someone dying on the cross give life, eternal life? How could victory over life’s problems be had from One being ignominiously executed as the vilest criminals? How could the cross do those things and more? Ludicrous. Laughably absurd. The Apostle Paul noted this “ For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; …. “ (1Co 1:18). It is not only ludicrous, it apparently is prohibitively costly. The plan called for God’s giving His Son to die. A plan that requires one to send his son to the executioner is just too costly. Especially, if the plan is to send that son to die for the guilty, the sinful, the unworthy. Paul was also the one to note that, while admitting that kind of price might in an extremely rare case be paid for a really good person, it would be too costly for scoundrels: “For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die.” (Rom 5:7). Yet, though God’s plan seems ludicrous and prohibitively costly, He implemented it and it worked: Ludicrous? Yes. But, you may have noticed I left off the rest of the verse, “ For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; ….” The remaining of that verse says, “… but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.” (1Co 1:18). Prohibitively costly? So it would seem. Yet, again, I didn’t finish Paul’s thought. I left off the verse following this one: “For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die.” (Rom 5:7). The next verse continues, “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom 5:8). Though unimaginably costly, God paid the price. Thank God He had a ludicrous and prohibitively costly plan. It worked! I am not arguing for the plan of the candidate mentioned above. Frankly, I do not think her plan will work. I know God’s plan did. It does. It will. Is your life a mess? God has a plan for that.
on the survival of the species—the christian one
Bro . Clifford Hurst 11/03/2019
Here’s some debris of the workshop: This blog germinated while reading the Signature of the Cell and, concurrently, the Epistle to the Galatians while preparing for Sunday evening’s message. President Donald Trump keeps talking about the greatest hoax ever foisted upon the American people. We know what that is all about. But, he’s wrong. The greatest hoax ever foisted upon the American people is the belief that Darwin’s evolutionary theory explains the origin of life. Darwin himself didn’t even believe that. The title of Darwin’s work was “On The Origin of the Species.” Folks read “origin” and jump to a presumptuous, or worse, intentional, conclusion that “origin” references the beginning of biological life—how living things arose from non-living elements. However, to understand that Darwin was not addressing the origin of life itself, one need only note the complete title of his work: “The Origin of Species: The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life.” Darwin was not writing of the origin of life, but of the origin and continuance of different species. What Darwin was proposing is captured in a phrase, now famous, coined by a liberal academic and political theorist, Herbert Spencer. Comparing his economic theories to Darwin’s biological theory, Herbert used a phrase, “survival of the fittest.” Another suggested that Darwin use this phrase in explaining his theory. Darwin later adapted and adopted it, which, again, shows that Darwin was proposing a theory that only dealt with the survival of life. There it is. The biggest hoax ever: That Darwin explained both the origin and survival of biological life. Or, as another has put it, “the arrival and the survival of life.” Darwin never explained the arrival of life. Arguably, he didn’t describe the survival of life either. No theory, leaving out an intelligent, infinite Creator can explain the arrival of life. It’s all smoke and mirrors. There are no viable theories. None. But, I’m not writing about biology. I’m writing about a spiritual truth. If you have read this far, you may be asking what in the world does this have to do with Galatians and a Sunday night sermon. Darwinians “know” about the survival of life but not the arrival of life. The Galatians knew about the arrival of spiritual life but not the survival of spiritual life. “Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?” (Gal 3:3). In the terms used above, Paul was saying, “You know the Spirit was needed for the origin of your spiritual life. Can’t you see the Spirit is also needed for the continuance, the survival, of your Spiritual life? Put another way, The Spirit is the agent both of the arrival and the survival of spiritual life. (I’m not addressing the issue of the security of salvation, but the reality of living the life of the Spirit). Any true believer knew his spiritual life began by an act of the Spirit. Jesus had taught that. The Galatian believers were born again of the Spirit. But, somehow, these to whom Paul wrote began to believe they could live the spiritual life, please God, simply by their own efforts, traditions, etc. Impossible, Paul says. Your spiritual life arrived with the Spirit and can only survive by the Spirit—survive until it reaches its end, perfection. That is why he continues: It is the Spirit that prays through you (4:6), giving you the assurance you are a child of God. It is the Spirit that incites you to expect and anticipate the righteousness God will work in your lives (5:5). It is the Spirit that motivates and empowers everyday spiritual living, “walk”ing (5:16). It is the Spirit that contests the innate carnal machinations and motions at work against your spiritual life (5:16-17). It is the Spirit that leads you, enabling you to fulfill God’s righteous requirement by inward empowerment instead of by outward compulsion (5:18). It is the Spirit that produces the fruit of Christian character (5:22). It is the Spirit that gives the very life necessary for Christian living (5:25). It is the Spirit that will bring you to the fruition of eternal life (6:8). For those interested in more the Spirit does, Paul expands this thought in Romans. I am not a Darwinian. I am a Paulinian. Paul could have written a book, On The Arrival and Survival Of The Species Christianicus. All I have said comes to this: We need the Spirit at work in our lives! Not just at the beginning. All the way through. Right now.
a motorcycle in the middle of the night
Bro. Clifford Hurst 10/20/2019
It was in the wee hours of the morning when I was awakened in the motel room by the sound of a motorcycle, its engine being revved while stopped at a red light and then its loud acceleration when the light changed. The sound of the exhaust shook the whole room, or so it seemed. It fully awakened me. I was between legs of a long journey and desperately needed sleep. That motorcycle did not rev or accelerate itself; it had a driver. My irritated thought was, “That motorcycle rider can’t have the faintest idea that he just awakened me and kept me from falling back asleep.” It probably never passed through his mind, as he sat on street level, that several floors up at the nearby motel, he had changed someone’s day. He probably didn’t. But he should have. At least that’s what I was thinking. He made a decision to gun his engine just for his own pleasure of hearing his pipes’ staccato-roaring rumble; or, perhaps, to impress a nearby driver. That angered me in the moment. Then I realized, I would have been far angrier at him if I believed he had done it realizing that he would awaken folks, namely, me, in the nearby motel, but not caring that he did. Or, that he had done it maliciously, in order to awaken folks. It lessened my anger to believe he, deciding to wind up his engine and let his exhaust roar in the middle of the night, never realized the impact it would have on an unrelated, worn-out stranger in the motel tower nearby. Struggling to fall back asleep, my thoughts turned to a serious parallel: People are constantly making choices with their lives never considering the impact directly or collaterally their choice has on others. Being a pastor, I thought of decisions people make about their spiritual lives with seemingly not a nano-thought of the lasting influence it will have on others. One jettisons the life-style convictions he has had for years never taking thought of the spiritually detrimental impact that will have on those who have looked to his example. Parents choose not to be faithful to church seemingly without any realization that their choice will have devastating impact on their children and, ultimately, grandchildren. A father chooses a habit for personal pleasure and alters the path his son will take when grown. A mother elects to have an affair which leads to divorce. It not only impacts her children, but a co-worker thinks, if she can enjoy a tryst, so can I. The examples are endless, and so are the effects. One may be aware that those closely tied to him will feel the effects of his choices yet never thinks of the continuing ever-widening concentric waves that affect those at a distance. An evangelist makes a big change in his message and a man who respected him after having heard him as a young teen camper, just one face in a sea of hundreds of youth in a tabernacle, is so disappointed that he makes destiny-changing choices. Again, it is bad enough to have this collateral effect on others not realizing it. It is worse to realize one will have this impact with his choices and yet choose to do so despite that reality. To me, the man on the motorcycle served as a sobering reminder. When you choose to rev your engine in the middle of the night, you will awaken someone, you can’t even imagine, in a motel room. What impact our choices have!
the ugliest woman you’ve ever seen
Bro. Clifford Hurst 10/06/2019
There is an old anecdote told as a true story: At a large meeting of many participating churches, the ministers sat on the platform during the services. Before a service, one preacher came onto the platform and sat down beside another whom he knew only by reputation. After sitting there looking out over the congregation, the just-seated preacher tried to strike up a conversation. Leaning over to the preacher he had sat beside and pointing out to the congregation he said, “Look at that lady sitting over there on the left towards the end of the pew about three rows up from the back. See her?” “Yes,” replied the other. “Isn’t she the ugliest woman you have ever seen?” remarked the first. With affront, the other responded, “That’s my wife!” The offending chatterer, trying to save himself, quick-wittedly reacted, “Oh, not her! The lady sitting beside her,” to which the offended retorted, “That’s my daughter.” The description would have been inappropriately offensive of any lady, but it was especially egregious because of the relationship of the women to the offended preacher. Jesus Christ is the already-seated preacher. Constantly today, folks feel free to criticize the Church. They say flagrantly insulting things about her. If they could hear Jesus, they would hear Him say, “But that is my Bride.” The defamers might try to save themselves by saying, “Oh, I’m not criticizing the Church, just the people who comprise it,” to which Jesus would respond, “But, those are my children.” There is great criticism of the Church today. I do not use “criticize” in the sense of “to evaluate” but in the sense “to find fault.” Every opportunity possible folk seek to disparage the Church. Sadly, much of this calumny comes from within the Church or from those who have left it. It is open season for finding fault with the Church. It is popular to do so. It is applauded when done. Four quick concessions: First, I realize that the true Church is not the meeting of people in a building. Yet, from the beginning those of the true Church did regularly meet in a gathering. Second, there is that about the visible, gathered church which merits candid criticism. But that criticism should be of the layers of human constructs and conventions imposed and overlaid upon the Church. Carnal indulgences, hypocritical prejudices, and worldly assimilations should be outrightly exposed and condemned—by the Church. Third, the Church should recognize that some criticisms are accurate or at least have kernels of truth. Fourth, the Church should be quick to and constant in self-examination. Concessions noted, it is still a sad, travesty the way folks are so quick to say such disparaging things about the Church. It ought to be remembered that not only is the Church Jesus’ Bride, but also that He “purchased [her] with His own blood,” (Acts 20:28). Those who have left or who have stayed unhappily within the church who lob these slanderous diatribes at the her often, seeking to appear spiritual, say, “Oh, I love Jesus dearly. I just don’t like the church. It’s awful.” To those I would like to address another Biblical analogy: Scripture notes that the Church is the body of Christ of which He is the head. Now, not to mix analogies but to illustrate, remember the Church is also God’s Bride. Let’s bring this down to real life. Suppose a young man says to his fiancé, “You know I really love your head. But, I don’t like your body; it’s so ugly. Let me point out to you what I find so repulsive about it.” Most would protest and say that dichotomy cannot exist—the young man cannot just love his fiancé's head and not her body. Ludicrous as that may seem, many are making that claim. “I love Jesus but can’t stand the Church.” I love the Head but not the Body. No! If you love the Head, you will love the Body. If you truly love Jesus, you will love the people of God, the Church. I want to declare, “I love the Church, Jesus’ Church, Jesus’ Body.” I love the Church that meets visibly and physically in our facilities at Union Pentecostal Church, Dayton, OH. That’s why you might find me offended if you tell me she is “the ugliest woman you’ve ever seen.”
the true hero
Bro. Clifford Hurst 09/29/2019
James Bond, fictitious character, may be some folk’s hero. James Tour, non-fictitious contemporary, is my hero. James Tour is a synthetic organic chemist, specializing in nanotechnology. He is doing some amazing things. His work includes batteries that can charge in three seconds and last an incredible length of time; a method of using carbon particles to deliver treatment molecularly to traumatic brain injuries; radio frequency markers for organic items, including vegetables and fruits; and, on and on. Currently, he is working on and has developed nanocars. Nanocars are single-molecule vehicles with four independently rotating axles and wheels that are turned by light-activated motors. Thirty-thousand of these can fit on a human hair. James Tour has over 130 patents, 680 research publications. He has been ranked in the top fifty most influential minds of the world and in the top .004% of the top seven-million published scientists. His educational background is impressive. His awards are numerous. Few understand the complexities of the cell and its DNA as they relate to the origin of life as well as he. Yet, in the eyes of a largely atheistic, naturalistic academia, something is bad wrong with James Tour. What’s wrong with him? He is an unapologetic, professing Christian. In their and much of the world’s eyes, someone with deep faith in Christ cannot be very intelligent much less a serious scientist. The vogue, populist sentiment is to label Christians as deluded, ignorant, simple-minded, etc. The media portrays them as bumbling idiots, hypocrites, psychotic nuts, etc. Yet, there is James Tour. There is no way to question his credentials as a scientist. His work proves itself. James Tour is an enigma. Academia and media find it difficult to believe he can be a true scientist if he is a Christian. Naïve Christians find it difficult to believe he can be a born-again Christian if he is such an academic. James fits neither’s stereotype. I first listened about his work as a scientist and was deeply impressed. And, then I heard his testimony. After sharing how he became born-again in college when he, a Jew, was witnessed to by a Christian in a laundromat, he went through the impressive litany of all the accomplishments of his life. Then, tearing up, he said, “But, what means most to me is that I believe Jesus is the Messiah.” In another YouTube video before beginning a lecture before a huge audience, he noted that he would like to pray before commencing. He then knelt beside the podium and, giving God glory, implored His help. Often, James shares analogies of spiritual truth from his knowledge of science. I saw a video that was labeled with the words “James Tour” and “Isaiah 53.” Now Isaiah 53 is the chapter that prophesies the coming of Jesus as the Suffering Servant who bears our sins. I thought, “This will be interesting to see how Dr. Tour gives interesting insights into Isaiah 53 using illustrations from his work in nanotechnology and his knowledge of DNA and the cell.” That’s not what I heard. I heard one of the clearest, poignant presentations of the Gospel of Jesus that I’ve ever heard. No, one does not have to check his brain in at the door to be a Christian. Neither does a true scientist have to give up his Christianity. The two are not mutually exclusive. In James’ words, "I build molecules for a living, I stand in awe of God because of what he has done through His creation. Only a rookie who knows nothing about science would say science takes away from faith. If you really study science, it will bring you closer to God." No, a brilliant person becoming a Christian isn’t any more remarkable than an average person. Neither has more to commend him to God than the other. Both need to be saved. This only Jesus can do. In the end, Jesus, and neither James, is the true hero. (A short James Tour’ testimony: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QNGLZvtRoiU)
thrilled to have sins made known
Bro. Clifford Hurst 09/22/2019
We all have them, despite the modern world’s insistence that there is no such thing. We are not proud of them. We are ashamed. We feel the guilt--despite the insistence that we need not feel it. I am talking about our sins. Sin in its most basic understanding is a violation of God’s moral law. Only the degraded, deluded, and debauched broadcast and boast of their sins. Most of us try to keep them hidden. Some of our public sins are known to the world, at least our world. Some of our private sins are known to those closest to us. Then, there are some very personal sins so hideous even to ourselves, that we keep them hidden deep in the far regions of our mind, deeper yet in the recesses of our heart. If each reading this thought for a moment, he could think of an example of such a sin. It is something he would never ever like to be made known. Not to anyone. If you have thought of such a sin, can you imagine being excited and thrilled that someone found out about that sin and confronted you with it? In Scripture, there is that wonderful scene of a weary Jesus sitting on the side of the well in the heat of the noonday sun in a to-be-avoided part of the country, waiting for one woman with whom the Father had arranged a divine encounter. I marvel how Jesus took the time for such a woman of ill repute. I marvel, as she did, that Jesus would converse with someone His people felt was a mongrel, one to be avoided. There is not space here to recount Jesus’ conversation with the woman and how His dialogue with her led her from a recognition of her spiritual thirst to an exposing of her sin, but, I marvel at how gently and masterfully He did so. I marvel that Jesus would reveal to such a woman that He was the Messiah. I marvel, as the disciples did, that He would talk to a woman alone by himself, which no holy teacher would ever have done. I marvel about a lot of things. Not a marvel of How could He?, or Why would He?, but a marvel at the mercy, love, kindness, and grace He manifested doing so. But I marvel most at the woman’s response. As the disciples who had gone to bring back lunch approached the well, the woman hurried from Jesus. I see her running and waving her arms, as she shouted to all in her path, “You’ve got to meet this Man who just told me everything I ever did.” In effect, she was exuberantly shouting, “You’ve got to meet this Man who brought to the surface and pointed out my worst sins!” Can you imagine being excited and exhilarated that your sins had been found out? There can be but one explanation of why the woman was so thrilled. Of course, it had to do with Jesus’ revealing to her that He was the Messiah. That had to be overwhelming. But, it really must have been that in revealing her sin, Jesus also forgave that sin. He not only brought it out to the light of day, He cleansed her of it. He rid her of its guilt and shame. He freed her from it. Jesus does not reveal sins that He does not intend to forgive. Only Jesus knows your deepest sins. He knows you inside and out. And, only Jesus can and will forgive that sin. If you will let Him, you may find yourself joining the woman and shouting to your neighbors as you go down your street, “Come see a Man who uncovered my sin—and forgave me of it.” Only Jesus can do that! And He will! He’ll not only bring up your sins, He will bring you out of your sin.
don’t have to go it alone
Bro. Clifford Hurst 09/15/2019
Traveling down the interstate just now, I began to contemplate how “Life’s a journey” has become a constant, contemporary refrain. Suppose it is. Suppose one’s span, circumstances, and particles of life could be viewed as a vast wilderness he must cross. There are two different ways his journey across it could be viewed: One could see his journey as a float down the river that crosses the wilderness. This would be the view of religious predestinationists and secular naturalism-determinists. Just as the path of the river has already been carved across the wilderness as it meanders out in front of you, the path of your life’s journey has already been etched through the span of your existence on planet earth. When one takes a kayak float trip down a river, he does not even determine the direction he will go. The current of the river determines that. Floating downriver, the kayaker’s each twist and turn are determined by the river. The terrain through which he passes, the flora and fauna he sees, the other people he encounters, and even the in-river obstacles he faces, are all determined by the preset path of the river. Another view of crossing that wilderness, the correct view, in my opinion, is one of a hike. This being a true wilderness, there are no trails for the trek. How incredibly daunting! Although there are parameters, set features, obstacles, and landmarks to the land, the direction, turns, and path are left to the choices of the hiker. His path across the wilderness will be the result of his free will choices—which direction, which turn, etc. Each person given life is faced with this wilderness and the free-will to choose his path across it. Again, how daunting. How well can that possibly turn out? How despairing. But, let’s suppose the hiker is given somethings to help him. What if he is given a compass, a map, and a guide? Any of these by themselves would be quite helpful. But, together, they form a formidable help and hope. A compass is good. It helps one establish direction. It keeps one from wandering in aimless circles. A compass is better with a map. A compass used for triangulating can help one establish where he is on the map. The map then shows the topography, the landmarks, the dangers, etc., helping one ascertain the best route. One thing better than a compass and map is a guide too. A guide, beyond explanation of and confirming commentary about the compass and map, walks with you. He reminds you to follow the compass and map. He points out things you missed on the map. He even encourages you about discouraging features and distances. The one who faces his journey of life as a believer in Christ finds he has these three things to give help and hope. He has the compass of conscience, the map of God’s Word, and the Guide of the Holy Spirit. We choose our path, but, thank God, we are not left to go the journey on our own. I cannot imagine why so many are trying to.
deebot debunks random
Bro. Clifford Hurst 09/08/2019
Everything seems to happen so randomly. This seems true particularly of the opposite ends of the spectrum of human experience—tragedy and boon, suffering and pleasure, despair and delight. Tragedy seems to hit randomly. But, so does unexpected fame and fortune. The key word in the above is “seems.” Personally, I do not believe in random—lacking pattern, arbitrary, by chance, etc. Several years ago, at a holiday dinner our family engaged in an animated and fiery debate of whether there is any such thing as random. I remain UNconvinced that random is random. I just observed our Deebot, our robot vacuum cleaner, at work, and, as I watched its “random” changes in the directions and paths it took across the carpet, I became more sure than ever that there is no such thing as random. Once Deebot is turned on, she takes off in a seemingly random direction. Yet, that direction is determined by the placement of her base, or by where her owner has carried and placed her. She plows forward over the carpet until she encounters a wall, a piece of furniture, a crawling baby, a foot, a book—you get the picture. Then, she turns and seems to take off randomly in a different direction. Admittedly, if you look at the pattern she leaves on the carpet, it looks like her perambulations have been random. Yet, her every turn and change of direction has been determined. First, the very parameters of the room have determined the range of her movements. Each object that stands in her path demands she change direction. Once she collides with a wall or other object, the next direction she travels is determined by which of her bumpers has experienced the impact. How far she pivots is determined by the programmed calibrations of her bumpers’ sensors. Folks that have watched Deebot in action have said, “She moves so ‘random’.” But, actually, as elucidated above, no! Neither is life random. This analogy should not be used to promote godless determinism; nor, should it be used to promote predestination—the belief that God has chosen and fixed the destination of each individual. The greatness of God’s sovereignty is best revealed, not by His determining each’s destiny, but by His giving each a free choice of his own destiny. We humans are not Deebot robots. We are not pre-programmed. We have free-will. God does not force our choices. Even with free-will in the equation, the will, purposes, and plan of God will happen. God is sovereign. God is in control over all things, especially the events of our lives, the extent of our lives, the exigencies of our lives. This truth is the theme and key to understanding the Book of Revelation. The Revelation was not given to help folks figure out the name of the antichrist. It was given to suffering Christians to encourage them in their suffering with the fact that God was sovereign. God was in control. All through the Revelation we read, “This will happen this long, and no longer.” “It will affect this many, and no more.” “It will go this far, and no farther.” “Satan will be allowed to do this, but not that.” God is in control. Whether tragedy or triumph, the events of our lives are not random. “The steps of a good man are ordered of the Lord.” “We know that all things work together for good to them that love God.” God is sovereign. All is not random. All is ruled by God. Just now, Deebot got stuck. She protested with fervent beeps. My wife just went and rescued her, freed her, set her at home base to be recharged and refreshed. Yet, my wife would not have (at least not at that moment) had Deebot not cried out. Cry out to God. You will discover that your life is not random nor meaningless. God will reach down and rescue, help, strengthen. Deebot’s done for now. So, I’ll quit too. After all, Deebot wins the random argument.
Bro. Clifford Hurst 09/01/2019
Passing time on a recent road trip, I was listening to a debate between a renowned, chemist atheist and an esteemed, mathematician theist. They were arguing whether or not science could explain everything. Their back and forth banter, though interesting, began to almost hypnotize me like one watching a ping pong match from the side of the table, his eyes tracking the ball back and forth across the net. Thus, I didn’t catch it the first time the atheist said it. He slipped. Badly. Throughout the debate he had kept rudely suggesting that the theist, a Christian, was lazy and ignorant because his worldview was based, not on evidence, but on faith. The Christian theist had kept insisting, not only did he have evidence for what he believed, but also that the atheist too had faith. Lots of it. The atheist just put his faith in science. It was towards the end of the debate when the atheist slipped. He said of his worldview, “Science is my rock.” I didn’t realize what he had said until, while continuing to try to argue that his view was so much more intelligent than the Christian’s, he said it the second time, “It (science) is my rock.” His opponent caught it too. He interrupted, “Wait, you just said that science was your rock.” The atheist looked sheepish. What he had just admitted was that he was exercising faith by trusting science as the basis of all his beliefs. Of course, it is no shame for a Christian to admit he has faith. The theist continued, “Your rock is science. My Rock is the resurrection of Jesus Christ, for which there is much evidence.” I saw it immediately: It was a contest of rocks. Each had placed his faith in something upon which he established all of his beliefs, values, and life. But the rocks were vastly different. Which rock could actually support reality, morality, meaning, and purpose? Only one Rock of all rocks has never failed. It was then an ancient line of a song, Moses’ song, sounded in my head—and heart: “For their rock is not as our Rock, even our enemies themselves being judges.” (Deu 32:31). That was around three and a half thousand years ago. Even then rocks were being compared. Even then, compared to others, there was no rock like our Rock. Moses pointed out that, if the enemies of God’s people would take an honest look, they would have to admit there is no rock like ours. Ours is incomparably superior. Actually, it is no contest. Ultimately, our Rock isn’t just a belief, event, or even a book. It is a person. Jesus. In modern conversation I have often heard different folks, grateful for someone who had been helpful, encouraging, and strengthening during the crises and difficulties of their life, saying of that person, “He’s my rock.” I heard a wife recently say it of a husband, “He’s my rock.” I heard a lady say it of her best friend, “She’s my rock.” And an adult child of a parent, “Dad’s my rock.” Every believer can say, and should say, of Christ, “He’s my Rock .” None need be embarrassed to admit that. On Christ the solid Rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand!
not to believe either is to believe neither
Bro. Clifford Hurst 08/25/2019
Last week I began the Sunday morning message with this: “I felt a tremendous sadness when I heard the news this week that Jeffrey Epstein hanged himself in prison. I remember feeling that same sadness listening on the radio when Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber, was executed by lethal injection. I also felt it when they hanged Saddam Hussein. It’s not because I don’t think these were evil men. They were. It’s not because I don’t think they did despicable, deplorable things. They did. It’s not because I think that justice should not be served. It should. Why then did I feel that sadness? Because I fervently believe in two things: First, I believe in hell. I believe in a hell so exceedingly awful that I could wish no man go there however evil he may be. (That’s not the same as saying I don’t think he should go there.) Second, I believe in redemption. I believe that there is no person so evil that God can not redeem him, change him, make him a new creation. There is no sinner for whom Jesus did not die, and no sin His blood cannot wash away.” We have secular humanists, Darwinian materialists, and liberal hooey theologians to thank for getting rid of hell. If there is no hell, there is no need to bother with something being sin. And, if there is no sin, there is nothing from which to be redeemed. Of course, we cannot really blame society in general—the humanists, Darwinians, or liberals--for the disappearance of hell, sin, and redemption; these are rarely preached or taught in but few “mainstream” American churches. There is a false conception that, if one believes in sin and hell, that he is hardhearted and compassionlessly judgmental. Not necessarily. There is also a false conception that to be compassionate and loving towards the errant and sinful, desiring they be redeemed, is to be soft on sin, to jettison belief in judgment and hell. Again, not necessarily true. It is the believing of one without the other that leads to error. If a group emphasizes only sin and hell to the exclusion of redemption, it is wrong. It will be ugly, mean-spirited, uncaring, uncompassionate. If a group emphasizes only redemption and love to the exclusion of sin and hell, it will become vacillatingly ambiguous about sin, tolerant to the point of acceptance of God-condemned behavior. The prevailing sentiment of society is to decry any judgment of another’s behavior. “Don’t judge” is the incessant mantra and drumbeat. Say, a person embraces deviant behavior. Quick judgment will be heaped on any who would judge that behavior to call it sin. That behavior is to be, beyond merely tolerated, accepted. Sounds compassionate, loving, and caring? It’s not. In all probability the person who has ventured into that deviant behavior is suffering real inner turmoil, injury, wound, distress. Or, the person who engages in such behavior, as a result of it, suffers real inner turmoil, injury, wound, and distress. His psyche is warped and wounded by the behavior. If his behavior is not sin, then there is no redemption from his condition that resulted in or from his behavior. The hidden truth about those contemporaneously engaging in deviant behavior, is that the suicide rate is astronomical among their demographic. Not because they are anguished by those who condemn their behavior, but because of their personal struggle that led to the behavior. To say their behavior is perfectly “normal,” acceptable, and moral, is to silence any message of hope of redemption, help, and healing. Bad news can be good news. If a person, suffering tremendous tooth pain goes to the doctor and the doctor examines him and says, “I can’t find anything wrong with you,” that good news is bad news. He will continue to suffer with no hope of relief. If a person, suffering tremendous pain goes to the doctor and, upon examination, he says, “I found what is wrong. You have an abscess on a tooth’s root.” The bad news is good news. Not only, does one know what is wrong, he has hope it can be helped. The abscess can be treated and removed. The worse scenario for that person would be a doctor who knew what was causing the pain but refused to tell the patient. Hell and redemption. Not to believe either is to believe neither.
Bro.Clifford Hurst 08/18/2019
This, I know, will sound like a neurotic obsession: For the last month every time I close my eyes, I see splotches of crabgrass. Summer heat has turned the desirable grasses of my lawn brown and dormant. The same heat has caused weeds to flourish. Looking out on my browned lawn, I see everywhere splotches of crabgrass, like multiple, gargantuan, misshapen, raised, cancerous moles on healthy skin—only bright green instead of dark brown. In recent days, just a glance out the window and seeing the splotches would propel me outside furiously pulling them out by the roots. I could not wheel the trash bin across the lawn to the curb without stopping to pull crabgrass. Nor could I water my plants and flowers without reaching for nearby clumps. I knew my efforts were futile. There were just too many of them. Kneeling to pull them, I saw close-up the weed’s long, horizontal tentacles radiating out in every direction to seed the ground with more of its ilk. Uprooted and left on the lawn, once browned and dried by the sun, the clumps of tentacled crabgrass looked like recently killed humongous spiders their legs curled and withered. Any who love the look of a lawn of uninterrupted, uniformed grass know the revulsion of invading weeds. They totally ruin a lawn. You may ask, Well, if you hate crabgrass so badly, why didn’t you spray herbicide on it? I did. And that’s where I made my mistake: In the spring, when the growing shoots of crabgrass were small, I sprayed. After, the shoots had become cancerous splotches, I sprayed. When the effects of the spray in arresting the spread of the crabgrass were barely noticeable, I researched. I quickly learned my error: I was trying to rid the lawn of the weed post-emergent. Crabgrass must be dealt with pre-emergent. Crabgrass is an annual. Each clump lives only one year. So, what’s the problem? Next year, none of this year’s crabgrass will have survived. Not so fast. A single crabgrass plant, in its year of life, can produce 150,000 seeds. Many of these seeds find their way into the soil of the lawn where they can live for years, some germinating each year. The only way to control crabgrass is with pre-emergent treatment, with herbicidal granules that, when applied to your lawn, work their way into the soil down where the crabgrass’ seed are. Once there, the granules prevent the crabgrass seeds from germinating. As you must know, I’m not really writing about lawns and crabgrass. I am revisiting the insistence of my blog last week that the evil of recent shootings was birthed in the human heart. The clamor is to add laws to existing laws or to enact other proposals. Admirable motives, I’m sure. But, it needs noted that all these measures are post-emergent. They are efforts to try to control the evil that already exists in society and has already emerged from the human heart. The seeds of the violence, abuse, human trafficking, addictions, and the rest, are deeply embedded in the human heart. Something needs done that will get into the depths of the soul. Something pre-emergent. Simply put, the pre-emergent is redemption through Christ. After redemption, seeds of evil may still be embedded in the heart, but God’s work in the human heart, when and where allowed, is a pre-emergent. Active ingredients of salvation are the granules of Truth and Spirit. The psalmist noted that God’s Word in his heart prevented him from sinning. The apostle noted that living in the Spirit prevented the flesh from manifesting itself. The splotches of evil and wickedness on the soul of our nation, on the souls of people, are far uglier and metastasizing than the crabgrass on my lawn. Many are pointing them out. Some are spraying them with ineffective post-emergent attempts to control them. Only God’s truth and Spirit in redemptive grace will keep them from sprouting and, consequently, destroying people and nation. Even as I typed this, my obsession is urging me to go out and start pulling at clumps of crabgrass. But, I won’t. I know, what I really need to apply is something pre-emergent, something that will get way down deep in the soil. And, so, does our nation and its people.
dayton’s shootings: the evil behind the evil
Bro. Clifford Hurst 08/11/2019
Not that my opinion would matter, but I have been asked what I think about the recent shootings in our city of Dayton. I think a lot of things. Multiple thoughts about the shootings are rolling around in my head like many balls of different colors of yarn unwinding in different directions their different colors of the thread. I find it overwhelming to try to untangle one thread of thought from another. The balls won’t stop moving and the threads won’t stop intersecting one another. Yet, if I ask what keeps those balls of thought moving, it’s this: That folks are totally getting two things wrong--why the shootings are evil and what caused them. They also cannot see—and would never admit—that legalization of abortion has caused getting both of those things wrong. Folks are not addressing the evil behind the evil. They are calling everything evil but the evil. They are pointing to everything as the cause but the cause. Much of this misdirection is caused by the protestors. I am sure some are genuinely moved by grief and sympathy and a desire to make a difference. Many others, inspired by politcizers of the tragedy, simply enjoy feeling righteous for having protested. Yet, most are protesting all the wrong things. I cannot help but note the violence of those protesting violence; the hatred of those protesting hatred; the hypocrisy of those protesting hypocrisy; and, the racism of those protesting racism. What caused the shootings? Guns? Mental illness? The President’s tweets? No. Evil imbedded in the human heart. Why were the shootings wrong? Of course, the visceral answer is because they took human lives. But, why do human lives matter? Because they are valuable. Why are they valuable? Because they are God-given, God-valued, and God-sanctioned. God codified all three of those things in a command, “Thou shalt not kill (murder).” The wrong is that the greatest disregard of human life is to take it, and to take a life one must violate God’s command not to do so. Violating God’s commandment is sin, an offense against God. Many do not like those answers—there is evil embedded in the human heart and that humans are capable of actions that are sins against God, but until these answers are accepted, there will be no end to these killings. Until the disease is rightly defined, no drug can be found to counter it. For all modernity’s insistence that there is no evil, when things like the shootings happen, something still has to be evil, someone still has to be culpable. Since to say that the evil is the evil embedded in the human heart that violates God’s Word is too bring the reality of sin and God into the discussion, the gun is made evil, and the President and his words are made the cause. (A political cartoon this morning showed the gun coming from his mouth.) Mental disease instead of moral degradation becomes the focus. There are definitely factors that influence the emergence of the evil embedded in the human heart, but they only have that influence because they appeal to or unleash the evil in the heart. Perhaps, politically one can make new laws that will limit availability of guns. But, laws cannot alter the evil in the human heart. The reason folks keep getting the cause of the shootings all wrong is because they got abortion wrong. No amount of protestations and arguments can deny the fact that at some point a human fetus has a heartbeat. When attempting to ascertain if a non-responsive person is dead or alive, what is the course of action? To check for a heartbeat. For all the protestation, people know that a fetus is a human life. To not value the life of a fetus is soon not to value any human life. When that sentiment prevails in society, it will result in many forms of disregard of human life from assisted suicide to euthanasia to mass shootings. If a baby can be killed in the womb by a scalpel, why should we be shocked when, if he is allowed to grow to adulthood, he is killed in the street by a gun. I am not wholesale against gun-control laws, red-flag laws. But, in the end they do nothing to address the root cause nor define the real evil. The real evil is the human heart and its cause is defiance of God. And, that’s the evil behind the evil.
more exciting than a-hole-in-one
Bro. Clifford Hurst 08/04/2019
Perhaps, I am far wrong, but it seems a valid observation that when a restaurant makes a big deal of taking something off or adding something to its menu, it is because it is in big trouble. I get this feeling about many churches. There was a time that all it took to attract and keep people was a passionate preaching of the Gospel of salvation. When folks quit coming and began drifting away from Church, those that stayed assumed that something had to be done to get people back. So, they did one of two things, or often both. They changed the message and added other “attractions.” They both took some things off and put some things on the menu. I have been mulling this disturbing and alarming metamorphism of the Church of our time when I saw this headline in our local newspaper: “Tee Off at the Cathedral: House of Worship in Great Britain Adds Mini-golf.” This is no addition out behind the Church gym. This nine-hole mini golf course was installed INSIDE the church’s sanctuary. The nine holes are designed like bridges. The stated purpose for installing golf on God’s turf is “to teach young people about engineering and also have spiritual overtones.” If any young people show up to play the mini golf, I don’t think they will learn anything about engineering—though some rare, lone, prodigious putter might. I am even more certain they won’t get the Gospel from it. Notice that the nebulous goal was that players might pick up on some spiritual overtones. “Overtone” connotes suggestion, secondary effect. The Church has gone from bold, boisterous, booming proclamation of the Gospel in its sanctuary to covert, quiet overtones. If a bold blast of the Gospel will not catch one’s attention, I do not think he would pick up on a tepid, diluted overtone either. The Gospel is too powerful a thing to be shrouded in an overtone. It is to be proclaimed. As a youth, I belonged to a denomination that had monthly youth rallies. The rally was simply a high-octane church service. We gathered, and there was noisy singing, passionate praying, and anointed preaching of sin-forgiving salvation and seeking of Holy Spirit-empowering infilling. Service concluded with seeking God in the altars. Each month the rally was held in a different church in the area. Each month the church was full. Then the leadership decided that since these were youth meetings, something should be done that would attract youth. So, occasionally at first, then consistently, instead of church on rally night, there would be roller-skating, a movie, or ball-playing. Each rally became some event other than just church. Admittedly, to justify the Church’s having such events and to sanctify them that they might not be called secular occasions, a short devotional was slipped into the night’s schedule. Maybe a quick song, too. However, instead of attracting greater numbers of youth to the rallies, fewer and fewer came. I moved away from that area, but I believe the monthly rally, because of lack of attendance, was soon discontinued altogether. The leadership failed to realize two things. First, the Gospel was the attraction to the rallies. None other was needed. Second, the church cannot compete with the world with the things of the world. It must offer something the world does not have. Young people, no people, need go to the church for skating, movies, and ball. Those things all exist in the world. And, the world always does worldly things better than the Church. In the end, the Church does not need mini-golf when it has the mighty Gospel. Playing golf never saved anyone. Proclaiming the Gospel has saved all who have been saved. What can happen in a church that proclaims the Gospel is far more exciting than a hole-in-one.
a predator on the prowl
Bro. Clifford Hurst 07/28/2019
Only a melancholy mind could ruin such a beautiful scene. Leaving the house early, I felt my spirit elated by the coolness of the morning after the recent heat wave. I drove down the street relishing the brightness of the flowers, radiant with the morning sun. On one lawn I saw three young rabbits, this spring’s litter, chasing one another. Their circuitous romping was punctuated with intermittent, joyous bounces. Had she been with me, my wife would have exclaimed, “They’re so cute!” and just relished and enjoyed the scene. Not me. I immediately thought to myself, “It’s sad that very few of this spring’s rabbits will be alive come winter.” It’s true. I have seen the prowling cats slinking through the plat, the neighborhood hawk perched on the highline its eyes like a satellite’s camera mapping yards, and the owl gliding silently in the twilight. I cognately knew what the juvenile bunnies could only instinctively perceive; there were predators out to get them. I had my melancholy thought of their unlikeliness of survival because of my awareness of the predators on the prowl to prey upon them. You may call it a negative perception of the world. Peter calls it a stark reality. You may think it something that is better left unthought and for sure unsaid. Peter warns it is something to be mindful of and be admonished by. “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour:” (1Pe 5:8). Although against the grain of some readers’ theology, to say that the devil preys upon the saved and often makes his kill, taking their spiritual life, is the stark reality of experience. We see it happen. I began to think of a large class of young adults I once taught. Many of them today no longer serve Jesus. Then there were the seasons in our church of people being converted by the covey. Their new life was apparent: Glorious testimonies. Evident life changes. Ebullient worship. Expressive joy. In worship, they were like the young rabbits running, jumping, full of life. Some time later, many of these were gone. Casualties of the predator. Not only do I have no intentions of engaging in the Arminian/Calvinism theological debate, I have no space or inclination to wrestle over the question of free will (I choose not to.) I only know it happens. I know there is a predator. I know there are casualties. I also know that the predator can be resisted. In fact, he will flee from the resolute believer who is submitted to God. “Whom resist stedfast in the faith, ...” (1Pe 5:9). “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (Jas 4:7). I know that one can choose to endure and will be consequently saved. “…he that endureth to the end shall be saved.” (Mat 10:22). And, I know God is able to keep the willing from being a casualty. “Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy,” (Jud 1:24). One thing we have that the bunnies don’t. Choice. We do not have to be a casualty. I cannot help being inanely trite: Despite the predator on the prowl, we can hop with hope.
how do you like your truth?
Bro. Clifford Hurst 07/21/2019
Our nation this past week was a buzz with an uproar over our president’s tweet-lambasting of junior members of the congress who espouse and promote socialism. Answering salvos of charges of racism have filled the airways. Although I deeply agree with the sentiments against socialism and nation-trashing, I find myself musing broodingly over the whole thing. I think any who love objectiveness deeply appreciate the unequivocal, candid, forthright, undisguised declaration of the truth. Yet, that does not mean there is only one way to declare it. Some like truth presented didactically, taught in a logical presentation, in connected, coherent, lines of reasoning—though that does not suit those who are moved by demagoguery. Some like it in the form of appeal and persuasion—the proclaimer seeking common ground, showing sensitivity and concern for the hearers, as he reveals the truth and attempts to convince them it is for their benefit. But, many prefer it in this week’s style: They are attracted to blatant bursts of rhetoric that have the effect of a spotlight in the eyes, the blasting blare from a megaphone, the explosion of a verbal grenade. It seems that, often, this brazen style is more attractive, generally, to the conservative. That isn’t scientific but anecdotal. Conservatives appreciate the objective. Nuance is often suspect as a slipping into the subjective, equivocating, embracing relativism. To show sensitivity and concern is seen as soft, especially, because it is often the precursor to the sharer never getting around to the truth of the matter. Many of us American conservatives love our gunslingers. We like our politicians and preachers to come in, shooting from the hip, with guns drawn and blazing. We prefer a western over a documentary. Why? That discussion would take too much space. But, just let me put it this way: A gunslinger with blazing guns is far more exciting than a teacher magic marker in hand writing on the whiteboard. It’s the same reason why so many prefer watching football over a chess match. It’s the action. It’s the noise. It’s the drastic, immediate effects. It’s a thrill that is felt vicariously. The rapid roar of the revolver makes the gunslinger appear heroic. Few teachers have completed a lecture and been lauded as heroic. The squeak of marker on whiteboard can’t compete with the thunderous cacophony and smoke of the gun. (By the way, a verbal gun is easier to load and a rhetoric bomb is much easier to prepare than a poignant lecture.) Yet, I keep wondering what the truly Christian view of such tirades, we’ve recently heard, should be. Two scriptures keep coming to mind: “But speaking the truth in love,” (Eph 4:15). And, “Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, …. (Col 4:6). One protestation could be, “Those scriptures are about the church and the Gospel—not about the world of our politics. They deal with sharing God’s truth not responding to questions at a political news conference; Christian communication not secular tweets.” That begs the point. All would benefit if the wisdom of God’s principles were applied to all of life. Also, the Christian should not view his life as dichotomized between the spiritual and the secular. We Christians do not live two existences where God’s Word applies only to the spiritual one. Another protestation is that our president isn’t our pastor. True, yet, president and pastor have something in common. They are each a leader. The question is a matter of what is proper for a leader. Whatever the field, are crudeness and rudeness proper for a leader? Beneficial for the followers? Persuasive to the opponents? Then, there are, after all, the thunderous Bible prophets: The Bible prophets certainly proclaimed the Word of the Lord unequivocally boldly and clearly with a trumpeting voice. Yet, Moses interceded for the same people he lambasted, Jeremiah wept over their city, and Ezekiel sat among them. Pyrotechnic displays are more well attended than Mozartian recitals. Passion trumps accuracy. Cleverness, elucidation. Yet, nothing, quiet as it is, has changed as many hearts as truth with love and speech with grace. How do you like your truth?
something else is following
Bro. Clifford Hurst 07/14/2019
Ashamed of the poor, dysfunctional circumstances of his childhood, Pip, the protagonist of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, said—at least in the movie version, “I don’t want before to follow me.” He was trying to cast off the past to live a new life facilitated by having become a beneficiary of wealth from an anonymous source. Despite his wishes, BEFORE not only followed him, it caught up. It always does. As certain as the law of gravity is the fact that our past, particularly our sin, follows us. It is painful when our past sins catch up with us. It will be more painful to believe they are no longer following us, will never catch up with us, only to discover that they have overtaken and bypassed us and are waiting to greet us when we arrive in eternity. No wonder those who repent and trust in Christ for forgiveness rejoice: Sins are not following the repentant; neither are they waiting for him at the judgment. Well, not the guilt or penalty of those sins. Even for the repentant, the consequences of one’s sins, the consequences of the before of his Christian life, follow and catch up. The longer I live the more I see the reality of “whatsoever a man sows, that will he also reap.” The before follows and catches up. If you aren’t so sure about this, think of just one example—posts on social media. Posts from years past have caught up at one’s job interview and cost that one employment. This reality of the past, the before following and catching up, I did not share to despair or discourage, but to annunciate that there is something else that follows us as well—God’s goodness and mercy. The Christian is thrilled to discover that not only do the consequences of his past sins follow along behind him, but so do God’s goodness and mercy (“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.” Psa 23:6.) When the consequences of my past catch up with me, mercy and goodness will also catch up. I have always wondered about that ending of the bucolic, poetic, Psalm 23. Why are “goodness and mercy” FOLLOWING. Are they keeping their distance? Did the psalmist outpace them? Why aren’t goodness and mercy right there with him? Why aren’t they already there ahead, waiting in the place of the crisis on hand for when he gets there? Why only following? Why not walking right beside? Being behind, do they never catch up until he gets to the House of the Lord? Some read “follow” as pursue. God is so loving He sends His goodness and mercy chasing after an errant, undeserving one. Certainly, so. But, what about this scenario. You find yourself trekking through a hostile desert. You run out of water. You have no strength to go an inch forward to possible water ahead. Even if going back to a past watering hole were an option, you are too weak to make it. At that moment you remember that you had news that a caravan carrying water and supplies was traveling just behind you. The water that has been following you catches up to you when you need it most. Had it not been following, you would have perished. How many times, had not God’s goodness and mercy been following us, we would have found ourselves in a condition that would have terminated us? So, yes, our past follows us. Yes, it often catches up leaving us immobilized, soul-dry, despaired, discouraged, and desperate. But, there is something else following too. Goodness and mercy. They catch up too.
in whose hands...
Bro. Clifford Hurst 07/07/2019
An all too familiar despair in life is the one that comes from thinking a problem requires only a quick, simple, fix and then discovering it demands an extensive, expensive, elaborate repair. Those who assume responsibilities know this sinking feeling. You take your SUV for a $19.99 oil change and the diagnostician locates you in the waiting room and gives you a $999.99 estimate of what it will take to save your vehicle. You call in an electrician for what you believe is a faulty receptacle, and he informs you that the source of the problem is a needs-to-be-replaced service panel. More seriously, you go to the doctor for what you think is bad reflux, curable with a prescription of the right inhibitor, only to have him do an emergency scope that reveals life-threatening esophageal cancer. There is also a great joy in life: It is to have concluded that something requires an extensive, expensive, elaborate repair and then to discover it needs only an inexpensive, quick fix. Here’s a personal example of when I recently felt the despair: I had a drain leak in our house that I anticipated only required an elbow fitting be replaced. It took five days, requiring cutting an 8-foot length through the concrete of our house and replacing the plumbing under the slab. Here’s an example of the joy: Our refrigerator recently stopped cooling. I was sure that we were going to have to purchase a new one. Taking off a panel to reveal the inner workings and wiring of our fridge, I discovered a wire that had vibrated loose from its terminal connection. After I pushed it firmly into the connector, our refrigerator began working again. Many times, I have learned that the diagnosis and outcome is determined by in whose hands you place your problem. What of the $19.99 oil change turning into a $999.00 major repair? A recent investigative report discovered that some oil change services train employees to discover some non-existent problem with clients’ vehicles, or worse, to sabotage vehicles so they require more service. What of the anticipated expensive repair turning out inexpensive? Recently, I thought my truck’s timing belt had slipped. Then, I discovered a throttle body cable that had come loose. I fixed it, at no cost, in minutes. What matters is in whose hands we place our problems: I read an author’s account sharing of his daughter who suffered greatly with a disease that, while she was yet very young, required joint replacements throughout her body. She had an ankle replacement that failed. For eight years she lived in excruciating, debilitating pain and impaired mobility. Her surgeon told her the artificial joint would need to be extracted and her ankle fused. She was facing possible amputation of her foot. Four days later she went to a new physiotherapist. He attentively listened to her. Then he put his powerful hands around her ankle and began to compress it while having her move her foot. After forty seconds a bone slipped into place. Her pain immediately disappeared, and she could walk. Until her ankle was in that physiotherapist’s hands, she was anticipating amputation after years of pain and immobility. What wonderful things can happen if we place our problems and crises in the powerful hands of God. Our despair of the insurmountable could quickly turn into the joy of His intervention, strength, grace, or help. Even minor things taken into our own hands or placed in the hands of those who are incapable, or even malevolent, can turn even an easily fixed problem into destruction. There’s no problem Satan can’t make worse. In God’s hands, whether something requires a quick fix or extensive repair, there will never be need to despair.
a dog story
Bro. Clifford Hurst 06/30/2019
Almost, I didn’t read the article. I just don’t get into stories about pets. As a child, I loved stories about animals and esteemed “Where the Red Fern Grows,” as a literary classic. I think my current disdain comes from a reactionary disgust with a pop-culture that humanizes animals and treats relationships with animals on par with those with humans (Admittedly, many pets are more agreeable than many humans.). I certainly do not begrudge or demean anyone who has great affection for a pet or derives great pleasure or companionship from having one. Perhaps, what I feel is caused simply by the contemporary, overwhelming inundation of pet-lauding in movies, conversations, and social media. Whatever the case, I felt an aversion to reading this dog story. But, I did. And, am glad I did. I will skip the details of the main plot and share what particularly intrigued me: The human in the story, seeking help with weight loss, had been advised by the doctor he had visited to adopt a dog. Walking the dog would be incentive to exercise. From a shelter the human rescued a dog that had been neglected and left mostly on its own in its owner’s backyard. The dog was overweight, out of shape, and swollen in its joints. The walks began. These had a life-changing effect on human and dog. One day on their walk they visited a park neither had been to before. It was along a creek with a beautiful pond and a background of mountains. Suddenly, the dog uncharacteristically began to strain at his leash trying to run deeper into the park. The human began to think of the dog’s past life. The dog was now middle-aged, dog year-wise, and had spent his whole life caged, fenced, or leashed. On impulse the human reached down and unsnapped the leash from the dog’s collar. The dog took off like a racehorse out of the gate. He flew down the trail and never slowed when he reached the pond. He launched himself through the air and glided about seven feet over the water’s surface before splashing down. He swam so excitedly back to shore that the front of his body was lifted high out of the water. He ran back to his owner and shook water all over him and then ran back to jump into the pond again. He repeated this eight times before his human was able to get him to stop and rest. The dog was panting laboriously, but his eyes were twinkling with joy and his mouth was smiling around his dangling tongue. The dog had simply enjoyed being set free. Bondage is devastating to the spirit. Even a dog’s spirit. Freedom is exhilarating. In my mind’s eye I watched the dog launch himself through the air into the pond and saw its joy. As the scene repeated itself, I began to think of the many who in the words of Scripture have been “all their lives subject to bondage.” Theirs is a bondage of soul, spirit, and mind. What a wonderful joy they would experience if they would but let Christ set them free. There is no joy like the freedom of spirit to soar through the air of forgiveness and plunge in the waters of grace and run with the abandonment of a soul with which all is well. The reason of the dog’s exhilaration was something a dog could never think or articulate: The thrill came from experiencing both the enjoyment of freedom and the freedom to enjoy. On the leash, he was not only not free, he was also unable to enjoy the park and pond around him. People who are bound in spirit do not know the joy of a free spirit. They are also not free to enjoy the people, events, things of life around them. As certainly as the human was capable of reaching down and undoing the clasp that connected the limiting leash to the dog’s collar to set it free, and as the human was evidently willing to do so, Jesus Christ is capable of reaching down and loosing a person’s heart from what binds it. And, He is willing to do so. If you allow Jesus to set you free, the dog might not be the only one running, leaping, and smiling.
hearing the author’s voice
Bro. Clifford Hurst 06/23/2019
It was one of those embryonic thoughts that comes bobbing up from our subconscious and then re-submerges before we get a cognitive fixation on it. For a long time, this thought had been making its sudden appearance and disappearing before I could get a good look at it. It was only on the airplane yesterday (at this writing) that I took the time to grab and examine it before it again vanished below the surface of consciousness. To pass the time on the flight, I was reading on my Kindle. That of which I became aware was this: I was hearing the author’s voice as I read his book! As I read the words, I heard his voice saying them. I stopped perusing and reflected on this while also considering two other authors I was currently reading. It was true of them as well. As I read their books, I heard their voices as if they were audibly narrating their own works. Currently, I have been reading works by Jordan Peterson, Dennis Prager, and John MacArthur. When reading Jordan’s book, I hear Jordan’s voice. Reading Dennis’ book, I hear Dennis’ voice. Likewise, reading John’s book, I hear John’s voice. Really. As I scan the words and register the meaning, the words are accompanied by the author’s voice. I hear the pronunciation, the inflection, the tone, the cadences, pitch, and even the pauses. Since I often listen to them from a video venue, I also see their facial expressions and their hand movements that are tandem with their words. I am reading, but I am hearing and seeing the author. You try it. Read an author you have listened to and/or watched frequently. Do you not hear his voice? For those of you whom I pastor, can you not hear my voice as you read this I’ve written. Awful thought, that. Now, this only occurs, when reading an author’s work, if one has, prior to the reading, heard and become familiar with his voice and oratory. If you have never heard an author, you won’t hear his voice as you read. It’s not possible. It was while mulling that point that I had this wondrous thought: It works the other way with God: He has written, via human instrumentality, a Book. Most have never audibly heard His voice. Yet, if one intently reads God’s Book, He will begin to hear God’s voice with the words. The words are no longer ink symbols of meaning. They are living utterances of God. The words of dead ink become utterances of a living voice. With human authors, you must first hear before reading for this to occur. With God, you must first read before you will begin to hear. With human authors, one becomes familiar with them and then begins to hear their voices as he reads their works. With God, one becomes familiar with His work and then begins to hear His voice. In either case, the person is joined with the words. With human authors the voice is in your head; with God, it’s in your heart. The Bible is not a dead document. It is alive. God’s voice accompanies His written words. Are you hearing His voice? Are you reading His Book?
a tribute to fathers
Bro. Clifford Hurst 06/16/2019
For some reason Father's Day is almost ignored when compared with all the attention given to Mother's Day. Don't get me wrong; mothers deserve all the honor given them on Mother's Day and more. However, fathers are long due a tribute: Fathers are unselfish servants of their families. Mom is easily appreciated because she’s always there, and her work is so immediately evident. A meal on the table, a Band-Aid on a knee, a kiss on a hurt. Dad often doesn’t seem to be there for the kids. Dad is away at work for 8 to 16 hours a day to pay the mortgage on the house and car. Most children never think that Dad was away all day to buy the stove to cook the meal, the tricycle to fall off of and skin the knee, let alone, the Band-Aid to triage it. (Yes, of course, there are wonderful moms who also go to work and pay for things.) Dad walks in tired only to have Johnny pout and question him why he doesn't stay home like Mom to put on Band-Aids, read books, and play army men. Dad is busy working even when he’s home. Dad is the fix-it man. There are wheels to put on trucks and heads to put on dolls. Training wheels to take off--then put right back on. There is fishing Dad must do. Not just putting on worms and taking off fish, but noodling in the commode to pull out Hot wheels and Susy's comb. Dad not only pays the bills, he carries the load of worrying how they will be paid. Dad suffers through a greasy hamburger at Mc______so the kids can play in the playground, when he could be eating his favorite steak. Dad is encyclopedia, mechanic, security guard, banker, story teller, plumber, math teacher, priest, and the list goes on. Father's are wonderful people. You did know that they are people? As people they need thank you's, I-love-you's, there-is-none-like-you's. They need grubby hugs, sticky kisses, and crayon-drawn cards. Yes, it is a travesty that so many fathers are not there for their children—neither physically, emotionally, or spiritually. But, for many children, when their father is not there (home) for them, he is yet there (work) for them. Likewise with our Heavenly Father: In moments of the soul’s doubt, when it seems our Father is not there for us, He is yet there for us. He has always been there for us. He was/is there all the time. Our efforts at thanking Him may fall short, but He too, analogously speaking, would delight in a grubby hug, sticky kiss, and crayon drawn card. Thanks, Father!
the soldier from indiana
Bro. Clifford Hurst 06/09/2019
Seventy-five years ago, from when I typed “seventy-five years ago” the Allies landed 400,000 troops on Normandy’s shore to begin the extirpation of Germany’s Nazi occupation from France and Europe. Having been working on our Annual Freedom Service, while also remembering it was the anniversary of the D-Day Invasion, I thought of an interview I had done of one of our then living WWII veterans for our 2012 service. I had set the camera up and hit record and begun to ask some catalytic questions to get the 90+ year old veteran talking. For over an hour and a half he talked, taking me back sixty-eight years as he relived his participation in that invasion. As an engineer, he was in the second wave the second day. His unit had come to repair roads and bridges for even more armor and infantry divisions. He spoke of vestiges of the German army, still fighting in a rearguard effort to slow the Americans, firing upon his unit. Describing how he and his fellow soldiers pushed through those infamous Normandy hedgerows, he began to weep when he mentally pushed past one hedge row and encountered a vivid memory. I tell it as closely as I can recall: “We pushed through one hedge and came upon one of ours. He was lying on his back. His clothes half torn off and pillaged through.” The tears began to stream more profusely. “The Germans had stolen his things. They had gone through his wallet and left only some photos lying around. He was from Indiana.” I suppose he had deduced that from some identifying paper the Germans found valueless and had abandoned. At this point, the old veteran began to almost sob unable to speak for a moment. Then he continued: “I saw the photo of his wife and it hit me that she didn’t know yet that her husband wasn’t coming home. He would never go home.” That soldier from Indiana died fighting for the freedoms we so enjoy. So many in America today, filled with vitriol from the indoctrination of liberal falsehoods, use the very freedom he died to procure to protest against our country and the tenants of freedom upon which it was founded and are embedded within its constitution. They go further and champion the very thing that the soldier from Indiana and so many others died fighting—socialism. The official name of the Nazi party was “National Socialist German Workers' Party.” That’s correct, “…Socialist…Party.” Arguably, Hitler and his henchmen and political operatives were far-right radicals; yet, they appealed to the masses to gain power by espousing the tenants of socialism, employing the language of socialism, and promising socialism. The German people believed they would get socialism. Hitler did not really believe socialism, though he postured as if he did. I believe it is no different with many of the modern politicians from the left who appeal to the indoctrinated youth and older liberals with the promise of socialism. (Alarmingly, over 40% of Americans now see socialism as a good thing.) I have my doubts that many of these politicians, many who are presidential candidates, really believe in socialism, per se. They have just found a way to appeal to a growing base. Sadly, today’s far-left socialism leads to the same totalitarianism that Hitler’s far-right Nazism did. One can go so far left he has come full circle to the far right. Yet, the founders, the soldier from Indiana, and his many fellow troopers gave their lives fighting for freedom from totalitarianism. Sadly, many professed Christians commit the same travesty: They espouse and embrace the very things from which Jesus died to save them. Increasingly, the modern Christian accepts homosexuality, adultery, pre-marital sexual relations and a host of other sins for which Jesus died. What ugly irony. People without qualms celebrate the things the soldier from Indiana and Jesus from Nazareth died to free us from.
Bro. Clifford Hurst 06/02/2019
We were warned. Warned Well. Had we not been, consensus is, there would have been many fatalities. Amazingly, in our metropolis there were zero. Folks were warned and heeded the warnings. As of this writing, there were fourteen tornadoes in our corner of the state and seven confirmed ones in the greater Dayton, OH, area on Memorial Day night. One EF4 tornado left a half-a-mile wide, nineteen-mile long path of destruction. The next two days our church had a group out delivering water and helping clear driveways and yards of fallen trees and other detritus. Seeing the devastation of home after home firsthand, I kept remarking to myself and to any that would listen, “I can’t believe there were no people killed.” There weren’t. Wondering why, I again and again came back to the fact that folks were well warned. I had just lay down for the night and was reading something on my phone when a banner notification from a news source dropped from the top of the screen over what I was perusing. “Tornado Warning! Take cover immediately.” I raised up on an elbow staring at that notification when another, the government alert, appeared on the screen with that jarringly loud “Nrrrrrrrh, Nrrrrrrrh, Nrrrrrrrh,” sound: “Emergency Alert! Tornado warning in this area. Take Shelter.” I jump out of bed yelling to my wife and son, “We’re under a tornado warning, head for the hall.” Then the neighborhood siren began wailing. It was a wild night. For the next hour and a half there was a rolling sequence of those notifications, Nrrrrrrh’s, and wails of sirens as new warnings for newly detected tornadoes came in. Connecting my phone to a local station I watched the alarmed meteorologists report. Their very countenance and tone of voice emanated warning. Brighter reds probably don’t exist than those they used as background of the words of the label of their radar maps “Tornado Warning!” In fact, the radar map itself was largely red and deep purple, colors designating the intensity of the storm. The flurry of meteorologists’ movements as they alternated between different maps, trying to keep up with the simultaneously occurring tornadoes in different parts of the city, added to the urgency of their warnings. It greatly enhances the warning when the local meteorologist keeps saying, “I’ve done this for thirty-five years, and I’ve never seen anything like this.” All this time I kept getting texts from concerned friends in the area warning me with messages such as “There’s a tornado headed right towards you.” There were two. One trekking along just north of our plat and another churning destruction along the south of us. I must confess; I was born and raised in central Oklahoma, yet I was getting a bit nervous. The tornadoes came at night. Personal observation of the conditions alone could not have generated so much concern. It was the incessant barrage of numerous and urgent warnings. Warnings worked. They moved people to safety. At some point I began to think of the 2nd Coming of Jesus. No tornado can begin to compare with the calamitous things that will occur on planet earth just before and attendant with His coming. Put most succinctly, judgment is rushing towards this earth. It’s alarming that there is no alarm. The closer judgment gets, the less, it seems, folks are being warned of it. Though it is expounding something a bit different, as I surveilled the destroyed homes and vehicles, I kept thinking of the verse, “Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; ....” (2Co 5:11). Or, could we say, “That knowing judgment is coming, we warn people”—as a meteorologist warns of the tornado. I chatted with an elderly gentleman while staring at one end of his house. The roof was gone, and a huge tree had crushed the walls. He was telling me, “That’s the master bedroom. My wife and I were lying there in bed when we heard the sirens go off. We had just gotten out of bed and to the other end of the house when it hit. That tree landed right on the bed…” He let his voice trail off not finishing, nor needing to, the sentence with, “ had we still been in bed….” Warnings work. If there are no warnings, people will perish. We should warn. And warn well.
Bro. Clifford Hurst 05/26/2019
Lines. And more lines. And more lines. Then, more still. Although I knew the scripture’s meaning had nothing to do with what we were experiencing, its words kept running through my mind like a news ticker ribbon crawling across the bottom of a newscast: “line upon line, line upon line…” (Isa. 28:10). We waited in line to board the shuttle at the econo-parking lot’s stop 13. We waited in line to get off the shuttle at the airport. We stood in line to go through security. There was a line to board the plane and a line to de-board the plane. Then there was a line at the car rental. A line to board the shuttle for the theme park. A line to go through security at the park. A line to get through the gate into the park. At this point, the lines had only begun. There were lines up to two hours long for the attractions. Lines that twisted through labyrinths and gates with periodic displays or instructions to mislead one into thinking he was coming to the line’s end. (By the way someone should know that the synonym for line is spelled queue and not cue. Yes, I proofread the signs while waiting in line.). There were lines at the restrooms. Lines at the restaurants. Lines to buy popcorn. Lines to get a drink. Lines for a shaded bench. Lines to take a photo. The exit from the park required lines at gates, ferries, and buses. As I said to my family when accused of it, “Complaining? No! None of what I just said is complaining; it is just observing!” At some point I began to think how good we have it with God. Not only has He invited us to come before Him in His throne room, but no one must stand in line to do so. There is never a line to wait in. This is so remarkable. Right now, there are 7.5 billion people on earth. If every one of those billions of people decided to enter God’s throne room at this very moment, there would be no line. There would be no wait. There would be no maze to traverse. There would be no gates, creating traffic jams, to funnel through. No! Each would have immediate access into the throne room of God. Each would be first in line. “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” (Heb 4:16). Wow! Think of the images on the news of these massive, long, serpentine lines of folks waiting to get in to a certain venue to see the president of the United States. And, yet, to get in and “see” God, there is no line. At the theme park at the entrance gates of attractions were signs with the wait time. Nothing to elevate the spirit like seeing a sign over the gate you’re entering that says, “Wait Time: 115 minutes.” With God there is no wait. I’m glad there is no line to God’s throne room. But, if there were, I imagine I would wait in it. However long it was and long it took, that’s one line I’d be happy to stand in.
greatness meets need
Bro. Clifford Hurst 05/19/2019
Volumes have been written about worship. Scores of messages have been preached. I am certain that I can add nothing to the wisdom on worship that has already been shared. Yet I venture to speak (I have been preaching on worship on Sunday evenings since the beginning of this year.) and write about worship in hope of inspiring more of it. Why? I am convinced of our great need to worship God more. Jesus said in language that the Father is “seeking” worshippers. That declaration not only reveals the Father’s desire for our worship but also, at least in my thinking, the rarity of worshippers. One does not “seek” what is readily apparent and available. I want the Father to find me a worshipper. I realize that, although we often think of worship as limited to what we do in a "worship service" at church, worship is not an hour service at church but a way of life. Yet, worship as a way of life most often emanates in a moment of verbal and physical expression in the conduciveness of a church service or in a private time of prayer or spiritual contemplation. Thus, it is worship in that context that today I write. Thinking on worship as I was out running errands one day, I suddenly became aware of when and where worship happens in one’s life. Worship happens when my fresh awareness of God’s greatness and goodness converges with my renewed awareness of my need. In that moment I realize how great God is and how much I need Him. I worship because God is great and deserving and inspiring of my worship. I worship because I recognize my need of this great God. To come before God with only an awareness of His greatness, makes His greatness seem theoretic, distant, not-applicable to my life. To approach God with only absorption of my need makes me a self-centered sniveler viewing God as a source from which to get something I want—A Divine Vending Machine. But, together, my acute awareness and fixation on His greatness and my admittance of my great need of Him, results in my sincere worship of Him. In fact, such worship brings such trust, wonder, overwhelming love of God, that one soon has lost sight of his need and only his absorption with the greatness and goodness of God remains. Thus, worship, to put it in the words of two songs, is to come before God with a heart that says, “How Great Thou Art,” and at the same time “I need Thee, Oh, I need Thee, Every hour, I need Thee, Bless me now my Savior, I come to Thee.” Worship happens at the convergence, the intersection, of my awareness of God’s greatness and my admittance of my need. God’s greatness meets my need.
we’re not just moving the pile
Bro. Clifford Hurst 05/05/2019
What people sometimes say to bring consolation in times of crisis, I find not consoling but depressing. In times of reversal, failure, and crisis, someone, trying to be a comfort by giving perspective will say, “Think of it this way; it won’t matter a hundred years from now anyway.” That is a true axiom about so much that we obsess about. In a hundred years it won’t matter if in high school you were voted most popular or not. It won’t matter one year from now. In a hundred years it won’t matter whether you drove a sports car or not. Or whether your team won the championship. Or whether you made a six-figure income. Or whether you were turned down when asking for a date. The depressing thing about “It won’t matter a hundred years from now” is that it strikes at our need for significance. We have a strong need to say, be, do, something that matters. It’s when our lives, our person, our works, our endeavors, our loves matter that we have a sense of significance, that our lives have meaning. Years ago, I read an account of a survivor of a concentration camp. He recounted how the Nazi SS would force the hunger-weakened victims to do hard labor. On one side of the camp was a huge pile of garbage. One morning, the guards forced a detail of men to shovel and wheelbarrow the colossal mound of waste and garbage to the opposite side of the camp. The next morning, the guards forced the same detail to move the pile back to its original location. The third, morning, the men were forced to move the mound again to the opposite side of camp. Day after day. Back and forth. One morning, one man threw down his shovel and went stark-raving crazy. He snapped. He became completely disillusionly mentally ill. The survivor noted that it was not the repugnancy of the dump, or the harshness of the labor, or the weakness of body, or the abuse of the guards that drove the man (and others) to insanity. It was the being forced day after day to do a task that had absolutely no purpose, fulfilled no goal, accomplished nothing. The men were asked to expend themselves in something that did not matter. If honest, we can come to the place in life, especially when it’s hard or boring, where we feel we are but moving the pile from side to side—never really accomplishing anything. Never really doing anything that matters. What matters is what lasts. Sometimes we look at Scripture all wrong. I feel the key to a meaningful, peaceful, and successful life is tied up in Jesus’ injunction to “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God…” (Matt. 6:33). Yet, often we tend to see this and Scriptures like this—though we may never articulate or voice it—as something God demands because it somehow does something for Him. “Seek ye first…” is not just a petulant, puerile, request of a narcissistic God seeking to get us to do something for Him. It is not an arbitrary, purposeless assignment of busy-work as moving the pile from side to side was. No. “Seek ye first…” is the means of making life matter. What’s done for the Kingdom is never erased, forgotten, meaningless, purposeless. What’s done, invested, sought, in the Kingdom will continue to matter a hundred years from now. A thousand years from now. An eternity from now. Too many’s responses to the “It does not matter…” is either glib denial or depressing nihilism. Either way, most of these seek to numb the reality that nothing matters with momentary pleasures, intoxications, etc. These things only further reinforce the sense that nothing matters. I am out of room and time to elucidate, but the Apostle John captures what I am trying to say in three short verses: “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.” (1Jn 2:15-17). Living for God will matter a hundred years from now. That gives meaning and purpose right now, right here. That’s anything but depressing. We are not moving the pile from side to side. We are laying up treasures in heaven.
toss the magic markers
Bro. Clifford Hurst 04/28/2019
Peanuts has something to teach us about post-modernism—the belief that each determines his own truth and morality. From cobwebby, faulty memory I recall this strip: Linus, holding a bow and arrow, stands before a backyard fence with several targets drawn on it. Amazingly, the bulls-eye of each target has an arrow in its exact center. One of the characters, I forget which, walking up on Linus, marvelingly asks, “How do you do that?” Linus replies, “Oh, it’s easy. Just watch.” Linus pulls back on his bow and releases an arrow at the fence. With a thud, the arrow buries its head on a target-less area. Linus then walks to the fence with magic markers and draws a bulls-eye around his arrow and then concentric circles around the bulls-eye producing a target with the arrow perfectly in its center. Post-modernists take this liberty. They say their belief needs no justifying, and then they go about justifying it. They ascertain what it is they want to believe and how they want to live based solely on their own opinions, inclinations, desires, etc. Then, they construct aphorisms and arguments around that belief as if their choice of behavior and being is perfectly justifiable, reasonable, moral, and acceptable. I have been shocked at how many professed Christians, particularly Millennials, embrace behavior that the Bible and Church for centuries have called sin and then seek to justify their Scripture-defying behavior using the secular post-modernists’ manner of nebulous reasoning. The arguments are the same. The platitudes are the same. The talking points are the same. They want to choose their own morality and then claim it has hit a target of moral unassailability and acceptability. They attempt to draw around their belief and behavior concentric circles using Biblical language and concepts, such as “love” and “compassion.” They appeal to out-of-context Biblical phrases such as “Judge not,” and “God is doing a new thing.” They ignore the original intention of Scripture and contort it to mean whatever would accommodate their belief. Recently, I listened as a transgender justified his/her choices and behavior with accounts of his/her walk and encounters with God. Increasingly, people choose premarital cohabitation, gender-transitioning, and homosexuality but want to insist that their choice is acceptable to God, permitted by Scripture, harmonious to Christian faith. We do have the prerogative to choose how we live and what we believe; we do not have the prerogative to draw our own target. We don’t because God has already drawn the target on the fence. The loosed arrow of my choice is judged by whether it hits the bulls-eye of His target. Truth is, even with the greatest desire to live God’s way one many times misses the mark of God’s target: “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;” (Rom 3:23). But, even that is reassuring: Accepting God’s target as set, unchangeable, unalterable, the shooter knows when his arrow misses the target and knows when it hits. There is a security to having absolutes. Accepting God’s absolutes, when one misses God’s target, he doesn’t set about to redraw the target to accommodate his arrow. He seeks to make the adjustments to calibrate the trajectory of his life to the bulls-eye of God’s standard. I would rather aim for and miss what I know is God’s target than to live my life as I please and draw my own target around it claiming my life has been acceptable, pleasing, when it’s been anything but. The target is already drawn. Toss the magic markers.
the story of his scars
Bro. Clifford Hurst 04/21/2019
If you overheard someone who didn’t know Jesus’ story, pointing at the scars in His hands and asking, “Where’d you get those? What happened?” you might be surprised at Jesus’ answer. One of our children, when still quite young, had this thing of pointing to each scar on her body and describing how she came to have it. Most everyone knows the story of the scars on their bodies. As I typed that preceding sentence, I saw a scar on my right thumb, and immediately the story behind it lunged into my thoughts. So, weren’t those scars in Jesus’ hands from the nails that fastened Him to the cross? Well, yes, and no—not just from the nails. God, who erased all the effects and damage of death when He resurrected Jesus, could have easily erased Jesus’ scars too. The scars in His hands and side had been purposely left. They were the undeniable testimony to Jesus’ crucifixion. No one ever survived a crucifixion. Jesus didn’t either. He died; then, He rose from the dead. Yes, Jesus’ scars tell the story of His being nailed to a cross. But, there’s more. It seems that the scars from Jesus’ other wounds, such as the puncture of the thorns on his head and the ripped open gashes from the whip on His back, had been erased. But, Jesus had other wounds that left no apparent scars on His body. These wounds were the greatest He endured. While Jesus hanged on the cross, God laid on Him all our griefs, sorrows, iniquities, and sins. All of them. Of all of us. That must have been extremely painful and wounding. While preaching this, I have often given a self-concocted illustration: I choose a man to help me. He stands beside me on the platform. Then, I address the congregation, “At any given time, most of us have some type of sore on our body. I do. Imagine with me. Suppose I took my current sore and every sore on every person in this sanctuary and put them on this one man here beside me. Now suppose I took every sore on every person in this city and put them on this man. And every sore on every person in this state. Every sore of every person in this nation. What if I put every sore of every person in the world of all time on this one man? What would he suffer? What would he look like?” The man would look unimaginably horrible, ghastly. He would be totally disfigured. But, wait. This is what happened to Jesus. Our every sorrow, grief, and iniquity were put on Him on the cross. No wonder the prophet Isaiah said, “As many were astonished at thee; his visage was so marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men:” (Isa 52:14), and, “…he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. …we hid as it were our faces from him; ...” (Isa 53:2-3). If Jesus had been physically injured by all our iniquities which He bore on the cross, He would have been a pulp of conglomerated wounds. Had He maintained after His resurrection the scars from the wounds of all our iniquities, He would have been an unrecognizable mass of overlapping and intersecting scar tissue with no part of Him unmarked. Instead, He maintained only the scars on His hands and side. These scars tell the story that He had been crucified. But, they are also representative scars. They also say that there, on the cross, He bore our many iniquities. For “…he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities:” (Isa 53:5). It wasn’t just the nails that caused His scars. It was my sins. I am not sure what Jesus would say to the man in my opening scenario; but, the man does need to know that Jesus would have no scars had He not borne our sins. That’s the story of His scars.
and he’s going to do it again!
Bro. Clifford Hurst 04/14/2019
Today, two thousand years ago, Jesus made His triumphant entry into the Holy City. In His thirty-three years of life, He had entered Jerusalem many times before. He first did so as an infant in his mother’s arms. Then, we’re certain from Scripture, He did so at age twelve. As an adult, He entered at least three times a year. But, this entry, this time, was different. This was His official entry as King. I’ll never forget my experience of cresting the Mount of Olives from the east and suddenly, for the first time, seeing Jerusalem stretched out before me on the parallel Mount Zion, highlighted by the just-then-setting sun. The bus stopped at a vista, and our tour group poured out eager to gaze at the Holy City. My eyes riveted on that holy skyline, I tried to let its image brand itself on brain. Suddenly, I was gripped by a mesmerizing awareness that I was seeing what Jesus saw that day He, making His first entrance as King, descended the Mount of Olives’ slope, crossed the Kidron valley, ascended the opposite side into the City. Oh, I knew that, though the Mount of Olives is virtually as Jesus saw it, except for more numerous graves, the addition of churches, and asphalted paths and roads, Jerusalem was different. The walls were newer, probably built in the 1500s. The tallest, most noticeable edifice in the view is no longer the Herod’s Temple of Jesus’ time but the golden Dome of the Rock, brilliant, but 1 ½ times shorter. Still, the stones and semblance of the buildings and walls were the same. Night soon closed around us requiring a return visit the next day. The next morning the bus deposited our group back at the vista point and from there we walked down the hillside towards Jerusalem. The path we walked between bordering cemeteries was the very one, our guide pointed out, that Jesus traversed at His triumphant entry on that first Palm Sunday. In the bright morning sunlight and crisp winter air, I could almost hear the clop of Jesus’ donkey’s hooves muffled by the garments laid on the path before Him. Shouts of “Hosanna” seemed to echo out of the past, surround us, and grow in volume until it was as if our tour group had been joined by the worshipers who had been there that day. You could almost hear the whooshing sound of waved palm fronds. I was overwhelmed with, “This really happened. Jesus really descended right here and entered Jerusalem as King.” On the heels of that poignant thought came another, “And, He is going to do it again. A second time.” Jesus is coming again. To the crest of the Mount of Olives, He will descend from heaven. Splitting the mount from its ridge downward, Jesus, bursting through the sealed Eastern Gate, will enter Jerusalem as King. The first time He came on a donkey as a king came in peace. The second time He will come on a white horse as a king came in war to conquer and judge. The first time He descended with tears in His eyes. The second time He will descend with fire in His eyes. The first time He descended to hang on a cross. The second time He will descend to sit on His throne. His first entrance as King was a literal, physical, personal fulfillment of the prior prophecies of Scripture. That is reason to believe that His second entrance as King will be a literal, physical, personal fulfillment of prior prophesy. We have what they did not then have—a past occurrence of the event. Since He has done it, there is every reason to believe that, as has been foretold, He will do it again. The King is coming! As real as the Mount of Olives on which I have stood, are the promises of His coming upon which I stand. The King is coming! Again!
smollett teaches us hell is needed
Bro. Clifford Hurst 03/31/2019
Most of last week I was unplugged from any news, yet people’s outrage so boiled over that there was one event I did hear--the dropping of charges against Smollett. For most, an innate sense of justice brought outrage to a boil, whatever their political, religious, or sexual orientation. Smollett reported he’d been assaulted. As the police investigated, the evidence showed he had staged the alleged assault. The grand jury then indicted him on fifteen charges. Even the prosecutor that dropped the charges did not deny Smollett’s guilt. Folks were outraged over the charges being dropped because of a universal, inherent sense that a wrongdoer should be judged and duly punished. One who has done wrong should not be allowed just to walk away unpunished, regardless of who he is. Some may protest, “Wait! Isn’t that what you Christians laud about God? Don’t you say, that, although you were guilty of sin, when you believed in Christ, that God just dropped the charges and let you walk away free?” No! That’s not what we believe. That’s not what happened. God never dropped the charges. Never. He convicted us of all charges. He demanded we be punished for our wrong. Then, He sent Jesus to bear the punishment of our crimes. Jesus did more than time in prison. Jesus got the death sentence. He died. Executed. No, the charges were not dropped. Our sins did not go unpunished. Justice was served. One thing about salvation is like the Smollett case: We did walk away free—free of guilt, free from condemnation, free from punishment, free from going to hell, free of our past. This is amazingly wonderful, but I do not write to extoll Jesus’ substitutionary death. I write about hell. I cannot really say “extoll” hell. Frankly, hell is so unbelievably, unimaginably awful, I can contemplate wishing there were no hell. Yet, there is a need for hell. There must be a hell. Innately, we all realize that there must be a hell. Why? It all has to do with that outrage we felt when Smollett had charges against him dropped and walked away free. Something cries out that there must be justice for wrongdoing. Both secular and religious liberals have pooh-poohed hell. Hell has gotten a bad rap. Hell, as a reality has suffered major attack—not from the Church seeking to rescue folks from its invading grasp, but from those who would exterminate the very concept of hell. There are huge consequences to getting rid of hell. One huge consequence is that without hell there will never, in many cases, ever be any justice. Folks who die without paying for their crimes would escape punishment for their wrong. Justice would not be served. Without hell, Hitler circumvented any justice for his heinous crimes by committing suicide as the allies closed in on his bunker. If there is no hell, he was never brought to justice. Without hell, rapists, murderers, and thieves never caught, child molesters never discovered, adulterers who’ve never confessed, among many others, will get away with their crimes. No justice will be served. Payment for their crimes will never happen. Recoiling from the thought of its horrors, some too quickly jettison the concept and belief of hell. Before doing so, one should consider that Jesus died so none need go there. He took our punishment for our sins that we could escape hell. Any who felt outraged over the charges against Smollett being dropped should realize hell is needed. And because hell is needed, Jesus is needed. To think of hell and what Jesus has done that we need not go there will cause any outrage quickly to turn into gratitude. Jesus paid it all!