Return To Sender

posted Nov 8, 2017, 4:08 PM by Fccea Webmaster

A man was gifted with a chain saw, took it home, tried it but returned it to the store a week later complaining that it didn’t work. He said, “I was told I could cut down 100 trees a day with this, but I barely averaged one a day last week.” The clerk said, “Let me see.” He pulled the cord and the saw sprang to life. The guy who brought it in jumped back and said, “What’s that noise?” The gift was great – but useless until applied correctly.

 That’s the way many treat God’s gift of eternal life through Christ. The great Anglican theologian, John Stott once wrote: I used to think that because Jesus died on the cross, everyone in the world had been put right with God by some kind of rather mechanical transaction. I remember how puzzled, even how offended, I was when it was first suggested to me that I needed to take hold of Christ in his salvation for myself. God later opened my eyes to see . . . it was necessary to accept him as my Savior.”

 That was a key lesson in the exodus of Israel from Egypt (Exod 7-12). After Pharaoh reneged 9 times on promises to release the Israelites, God imposed capital punishment – the death of all firstborn. Unless! Any family who sacrificed a lamb and sprinkled blood on their doorpost would be spared – the angel of death would “pass over” that house.

 This visually represented the need for a substitutionary sacrifice to pay sin’s penalty. But it was not enough to have killed a lamb. The blood had to be applied to the doorpost – an act of faith indicating personal acceptance of the gift of forgiveness.

 God taught that same object lesson again after the Israelites left Egypt and reached the Red Sea. Pharaoh’s army behind; the sea in front. No escape -- except God made provision. He parted the sea. But it took an act of faith to walk between those walls of water -- incredible faith, I imagine! The gift of the parted waters wasn’t enough. One had to personally walk through them.

 Jesus depicted the same truth in Communion. He said in Luke 22:19b: This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” “Given for you”. How? In death. Is that enough? No – They just “Eat this.” He does the same with the cup. “Drink this.” His point is, “I will die for you, but you must die, too. You must deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me.” (Luke 9:23). Personal faith! That’s what we affirm every time we participate in this ritual.

 No greater example exists than at the cross. Two criminals died with Jesus – mocking as they went. But as one of them watched the perfection of Jesus, he came under severe conviction. At the last possible moment he said, “’Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ And he said to him, ‘Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise’” (Luke 23:42-43). That thief could offer nothing! Yet even as he hung next to Jesus, he somehow realized this man was dying in his place, and he accepted by faith the gift of life Jesus was purchasing for him.

 The other thief? No such promise for him. Jesus’ death was not applied! He would not believe and by faith accept Jesus’ death as being for him. So near, yet so far.

 Elizabeth Barrett’s parents so disapproved of her marriage to Robert they disowned her. Almost weekly she wrote letters to them, seeking reconciliation. They never replied, and after ten years Elizabeth received a huge box containing all her letters – all unopened. They had discarded ten years of exquisite expressions of love from Elizabeth Barrett Browning. How tragic. But no more tragic than missing the greatest love in the universe for failure to receive Jesus Christ as Savior. I pray none will return His gift, unopened.

Published in The Tribune October 14, 2017

Don't Tread On Me

posted Sep 2, 2017, 1:26 PM by Fccea Webmaster

A cartoon shows a tiny baby, seconds after birth. The physician holds the baby upside down and slaps him on the bottom. Instead of crying the kid screams, “I want a lawyer.”

Isn’t that a pretty good picture of our culture? We are certainly the most litigious society in history.

Forbearance, forgiveness, overlooking a fault – if anything, these are traits that we consider a sign of weakness. Strength is exhibited by defending one’s rights. Our rights are our identity, and God help the person who steps on them, advertently or inadvertently.

Of course, we all, myself included, like to see the bad guys get theirs. I remember some John Wayne movie where Big John arrived just in time to keep a young cowboy from drawing down on someone who had been too attentive to his girl. John turned his attention to the offender and said with clenched teeth, “I’m gonna use good judgment. I haven’t lost my temper in 40 years. But, Pilgrim, you caused a lot of trouble this morning. Might have got somebody killed. Somebody ought to belt you in the mouth, but I won’t. I won’t. The blankety-blank I won’t!” and he laid a haymaker on the guy. A muddy melee followed involving all interested parties. Of course, no one really got hurt. It was a movie!

In real life, the grudges raised in defending one’s rights often last for years or even decades. No one wins.

This is not to suggest that major infringements of legal rights should not be defended through appropriate channels. If the case is legitimate, the offense costly and a remedy available under law, the pursuit of justice is a major function of government.

But I am concerned with the minor irritations and personal vendettas that cause breaches in relationships out of all proportion to the “crime.”

Not to pick on churches, but not long ago a case made major news in Dallas where a church rift got so bitter that each side instituted a lawsuit seeking to dispossess the other side from the church’s property – this despite the warning of Scripture prohibiting professing Christians seeking public redress against each other (I Cor. 6:1-8). An investigation showed that the trouble all began when, at a church dinner, an elder was served a smaller slice of ham than a young person seated next to him!

God has a better way. “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Prov. 15:1). We might well ask, which displays more strength – a soft answer in a tough situation, or lashing out at the slightest real or perceived provocation?

Actually, God invites those who really trust Him to put all such issues in His very capable hands: “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.  Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord” (Rom 12:18-19). We’re trespassing in God’s domain when we get into the “defending rights” business.

The world would have a lot more peace if we had a few more people like the guy who, while driving, came to a bridge under construction. The road narrowed to one lane with a light at either end. He stopped on the red light, then proceeded when it turned green. Halfway across he met a car coming the other way. The oncoming driver leaned out his window and shouted, “I don’t back up for idiots!” Putting his car in reverse, the first man replied, “No problem. I do.”

Wouldn’t it be nice if we had a few more people strong enough to “back up for idiots”? Maybe we could be one.

Published in The Tribune September 2, 2017

Presuming On God's Kindness

posted Sep 2, 2017, 1:23 PM by Fccea Webmaster

The teacher asked, “Can people predict the future with cards?” One student answered, “My mother can.” “Really?” “Yes, one look at my report card and she can predict what happens when Dad gets home!” He’s got an accountability issue.

So do we all, although it’s not a popular subject in these postmodern times. But what if accountability and judgment are real? Wouldn’t it be worth consideration?

Jesus thought so. For example, on the day of His so-called triumphal entry into Jerusalem (Palm Sunday), as acclaim was coming from all sides, what was Jesus doing? He was weeping (Luke 19:41)! Amazing! But why?

Jesus knew that as the crowd cheered, the religious leaders were in back rooms plotting His demise. He knew that within days the cheering crowd would be calling for his death. His refusal to assume leadership on their terms would turn them against Him. This is the official refusal by the nation of Israel of their long-promised Messiah.

With rejection, judgment became inevitable. So, Jesus warns, “For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation” (Luke 19:43-44).

And it all happened exactly as Jesus prophesied. Pushed to the limit by Jewish insubordination, the Romans came in April, AD 70 under General Titus. They surrounded the city, set up a barricade, and set siege. By the end of 5 months, Jewish historian Josephus tells of the ghastly conditions – raging famine, bodies piled like firewood, women eating their own children.

When the Romans broke through, thousands were slaughtered and others sold into slavery. Titus had ordered the magnificent temple be spared, but the enraged soldiers started it on fire. Gold and silver utensils, stored inside for safe-keeping, melted down, filling the cracks between stones. Greedy soldiers used long bars to pry apart the massive stones to get at it until not one stone was left upon another.

It all happened just like Jesus said. But why seventy years later? Why not immediately? The simple answer is God “is not willing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (II Pet 3:8). He often delays to grant that possibility -- 120 years before the great flood came, four generations for the Amorites (Gen 15:16), 400 years and ten plagues for the Egyptians. Jesus’ own generation got three years of personal ministry and forty years afterward to repent.

But too often God’s patience is read as acquittal. Paul warns in Romans 2:4: “Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?”

God is not anxious to judge but inevitably He will. Opportunity is not forever.

A couple years ago, my wife, Patty, and I visited England with brother Jon and wife, Anne. One cold and rainy day we journeyed by train to Hampton Court (one of Henry VIII’s palaces). On the return, Anne and I decided to get some coffee to ward off the cold. By the time we were served, the train had pulled in and loaded. We rushed downstairs to the platform, but despite our frantic waves, the conductor closed the doors and waved the train on. We were just in time to see Jon and Patty waving at us through the window with silly grins on their faces. When the time comes, the time comes.

It’s no different with God. Now is the time to remove the issue of judgment by receiving God’s solution in His Son (John 5:24). The judgment of Jerusalem is just a preview of coming attractions for all who reject His offer. We must not presume on His patience, but accept His love.

 Published in The Tribune July 22, 2017

It's All Relative - Or Is It?

posted Jun 17, 2017, 7:16 AM by Kelly Griffin

A tourist in Palestine saw a skull in a museum labeled the skull of St. Paul. Later, in another town, he saw a second skull similarly labeled. He went to the curator and asked, “Now which is which?” “Both,” said the curator, “this one was his skull when he was a young man.”

We all see the humor in that. But consider, it can only be humorous if there is such a thing as truth – true Truth!

This is not a popular notion in postmodern times. Philosopher Terry Eagleton claims, “There is no absolute truth; rather truth is relative to the community in which we participate.”

Others would claim it is not society but the individual who determines truth. Bertrand Russell claimed, “It is for us to determine the good life, not for Nature – not even Nature personified as God” – an expression of moral relativism which may explain his notorious womanizing and his affair with his own daughter-in- law when he was 79 and she was 53 years younger.

Ernest Hemingway’s creed was, “What is moral is what you feel good after, and what is immoral is what you feel bad after.” One wonders how both parties of a violent rape would view this definition, 

The fallacy of relativism was on clear display at the Nuremberg trials of Hitler’s henchmen following WWII. A dispute arose as to what laws should be used to try the accused. After all, the defendants averred, they had not broken any laws. How could they be accused of murder when their actions had been carried out under a legal system where personhood had been redefined to exclude Jews and other undesirables?

The fact is that relativism fails by its own definition. Relativism insists that there are no absolute truths. But the
assertion itself is a statement of absolute truth! It is patently self-contradictory. 

Furthermore, as demonstrated in the introductory story, no one can live consistently with the assertion that all truth is relative. Philosopher Norman Geisler tells of one student who wrote a well-documented term paper defending his position as a moral relativist. But when the professor returned his effort with a grade marked “F – I don’t like blue folders,” the student was incensed at the injustice of getting a grade based on the color of his folder. Would we not agree – it wasn’t fair? But he could only be right in his protest if he was wrong in his paper!

Nancy Pearcy, a staunch defender of a Christian world view, was surprised, after a presentation at Harvard defending the concept of truth, when a professor came up to defend his relativistic colleagues. He said, “They know their theories don’t explain ordinary life outside the lab. But why throw it in their faces?” Why indeed? Why not let the charade continue, even though we all make daily decisions which make sense only if there is such a thing as absolute truth?

The crux of the problem is that truth is relative -- if there is no objective standard. But everything changes if a moral law, like the Ten Commandments, is not simply a list of do’s and don’t’s based on someone’s opinion, but rather the reflection of the character of a transcendent God. Suddenly defining personhood becomes a much easier task. Defining rape and incest as moral wrongs becomes a matter of objective reality rather than personal preference. And the fact that we all have a “sense of oughtness” becomes understandable rather than an unexplainable mystery.

Jesus told Pilate during His trial, “I have come into the world to bear witness to the truth” (John 18:37b). Pilate, 
a postmodernist before his time, answered with skepticism, “What is truth?” Given that exchange, I find it much easier to side with a resurrected Christ than a Roman functionary.

The concept of absolute truth may not be in vogue – but what if it’s true?

Published in The Tribune on June 10, 2017.

Filing a Flight Plan

posted Apr 24, 2017, 4:00 PM by Kelly Griffin

The comedienne, Rita Rudner, once said, “I’ve never been good with math. So whenever I got a math test, I’d just write, ‘I’m going to marry someone who can do this.’” It’s good to have a strategy for math.

It’s good to have a strategy for life, too. A lot of the difficulties we face are a result of bad decisions on our part. But, the Bible teaches we have some help urging us toward those bad decisions that necessitates a strategy.

That’s where our Creator can help. God’s Word not only offers forgiveness for those who put their trust in Jesus Christ; it also offers strategic advice for living up to the family name.

The Bible defines three great enemies that can destroy lives – the world, the flesh and the Devil.

The Devil is presented as a real, personal, spirit being with power to influence lives (see Job 1-2; Daniel 10; Luke 22; Luke 4 and many others), but always within limits imposed by God Himself (I Cor 10:13). The strategy for dealing with him: Fight. James 4:7b says, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” Fight him; resist his temptation through the use of God’s Word as exemplified by Jesus in Luke 4.

“World” is a term the Bible uses in a number of ways including to describe the anti-God worldviews, philosophies, and immoral lifestyle temptations coming from outside us. James 4:4b warns, “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?” The strategy for overcoming the world is: Faith. I John 5:4: “And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.” This is not a blind faith but one that puts God at the center of things and provides better and more rational answers for “how things are” than explanations, which leave God out of the equation.

Then there is the flesh – the human nature we are born with that typically wants its own way and can rationalize almost any means necessary to get it. This is temptation from the inside, including things like greed, covetousness, jealousy, lust, anger and the like.

So what is the strategy for meeting these temptations? Fight the desire? Pray? Quote Scripture? Meditate? Get an accountability partner? Group therapy? Any of those might help, but God’s very practical advice is: Flee! “So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness” (II Timothy 2:22). How unexpected, yet practical.

I Corinthians 6:18 targets a specific desire: “Flee from sexual immorality.” Flee it. Run. Plan ahead to avoid the temptation.

Like Joseph, in Genesis 39. Sold into slavery in Egypt by his brothers, Joseph eventually found himself running the household of the second most powerful man in Egypt. But Potiphar was away from home a lot. Joseph was easy on the eyes, being “handsome in form and appearance.” Soon a housewife who was “desperate” before her time had singled him out. Presumably she was also beautiful and represented a great temptation.

Yet Joseph consistently resisted her advances until one fateful day when “she caught him by his garment, saying, ‘Lie with me!’ And he left his garment in her hand and fled, and went outside” (Gen 39:12) – a very literal application of God’s advice in the New Testament.

Of course, we cannot avoid every single possible temptation of the flesh. But we can avoid the people, places and media that attack our personal Achilles heel. The point is -- have a flight plan for the desires we know take us down.

Take a page from Billy Graham who made it a point never to be alone with a woman other than his wife – mostly to avoid the possibility of a vicious lie, but also in recognition of his own humanness. Prayer never hurts; but when it comes to the flesh, have a flight plan. It will pay rich dividends.

Published in The Tribune on April 29, 2017

Is it a Failure to Communicate or a Failure to Listen?

posted Apr 24, 2017, 3:55 PM by Kelly Griffin

“How do you spell toad?” one first-grader asked. Teacher replied, “T-O- A-D.” Later the teacher found: “I toad my mom I wanted a dog for my birthday.” Something got lost in the communication!

Is it possible the same is true between us and God?

Most people, myself included, don’t get direct, verbal messages from God. He doesn’t text, tweet, email or do neon signs! So how might God communicate?

Is it possible that creation is one means of “hearing” Him? And indeed, when one considers the unimaginable magnitude of a universe composed of billions of galaxies, all comprised of tiny individual atomic universes, might we not catch a first glimpse of His greatness?

Could this all really have happened by chance? If the “Big Bang” gives a scientifically possible explanation for a beginning, what explains where the mass and energy necessary to create such an event came from in the first place? What explains the extreme fine-tuning of hundreds of variables necessary to sustain human life – a miracle of precision not explainable by any reasonable probability theory, even given billions of years?

What explains the six feet of DNA tightly coiled inside every one of our body’s 100 trillion cells, each cell containing more information than the entire Encyclopedia Britannica, all stored in a computer-like 4-digit chemical alphabet, whose letters combine in various sequences to form meaningful information that uniquely defines that individual?

Could the physical universe be the Creator saying, “Pay attention to this amazing display of my creative power, personality and love in creating this environment for you”? Is that not at least as plausible, if not more so, than saying it all happened by chance? Doesn’t this confirm the Apostle Paul’s comment in Romans 1:20: "For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse”?

Furthermore, is it not possible that this Creator has communicated in words? Could the Bible be what it claims to be – “the Word of the Lord”? Is it not rooted in a verifiable, historical context as no other religious writing? Does it not show evidence of divine authority in many ways including the casual revelation of many scientific facts hundreds of years before human verification? Is it not unique in the unity of its progressive message though written by more than 40 authors of varying backgrounds over a period of 1600 years? Is not the precision of its prophetic declarations and fulfillments unprecedented in human history?

Is it not also possible that this Creator has gone even further in communicating with His creation through the most widely known figure in human history – Jesus of Nazareth? Is it possible that the claim of Hebrews 1:1-3 is true? “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Heb 1:1-3).

Are those claims not proven by the death of resurrection of Jesus – confirmed by the empty tomb, the changed lives of the disciples, the triumph of the church over Roman power, and the powerful, credible eyewitness accounts?

Is it not possible that it’s not a case of God not communicating, but a case of our not listening?

Howie Mandel says, “Traveling at twice the speed of sound is fun – except you can’t hear the movie till two hours after your land.” I hope none of us are traveling so fast in this life that we don’t hear God’s communication concerning the next until – too late! Jesus said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Luke 8:8). Happy listening!

Published in The Tribune on March 18, 2017.

A Different Kind of Love

posted Feb 6, 2017, 12:58 PM by Kelly Griffin   [ updated Apr 24, 2017, 3:56 PM ]

Alfred, Lord Tennyson reminded us, “In the Spring a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love."
Well, it’s not Spring. But it’s nearly Valentine’s Day which prompts its own thoughts of love.

But you don’t have to be very old to discover that human love has limitations. For example, during a high school halftime show, one young band member stepped out to play a trumpet solo. His father, sitting high up in the bleachers, turned to his neighbors and proudly announced, “That’s my boy!” But about that time the boy, who had been playing so well, began to hit some sour notes. "Well," the man said, "maybe not. They all look alike from up here.”

Human love, you see, has a selfish core. We love for some attractiveness or endearing quality that we find in the other person. Take that quality away, and love fades in like manner.

That’s one reason we have difficulty relating to a transcendent God. We ascribe to Him the same qualities that define us. But His self-revelation in the Bible expands the picture. There, in the words of Brennan Manning, we find a God who loves not for what He finds in us, but for what He finds in Himself.

That’s great news because in our saner moments we realize that while we may “play our trumpet” well and with good intentions much of the time, there are enough sour notes of selfish indulgence, ego-driven ambition and shameless compromise to create a yawning chasm between us and an infinitely holy God. If He were not also infinitely loving, all would be lost.

Thankfully, He is not just infinitely holy, but also infinitely loving. So King David could say in Psalm 6:4, “Turn, O Lord, deliver my life; save me for the sake of your steadfast love.” His appeal is to God’s steadfast love, not to his own flawed performance. He knew divine love was his salvation.

On August 28, 1982, 20-year-old PFC Joseph White, stationed in Korea, ran across the minefield of the DMZ, heading to North Korea as fellow soldiers pleaded with him to turn back. Officially, he defected “for motives that are not known,” although fellow-soldiers reported that as a result of a dispute with his sergeant, his freedom to visit his Korean girlfriend had been pulled. They believed he may have gone AWOL to be with her.

When the Army released its official report confirming the defection, his parents held a press conference near their home in St. Louis. His teary-eyed father said he accepted that his son was indeed a traitor: “He has lost his credibility in this country, and even with me.” But then he continued, “But I still love my son, and I want him back.” I want him back.

Multiply that a million times and you have a glimpse of the heart of God. He wants us back from the brokenness that separates us from Him. So while His holiness creates the unbridgeable abyss between us and Him, His love provides a way. Paul reminds us in Romans 5:8, “But God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners (in a state of defection), Christ died for us.”

Because of His love, He Himself paid the price His holiness required to pave our way back, if we will just place our life in His hands by faith. Joe White never made it home. He reportedly died within three years of his defection. That need not be us. Although we, too, have defected, the way home has been bridged by His love – not for what He finds in us, but for what He finds in Himself. That’s a love worth having, and it’s ours -- if we just believe in Him (John 5:24).

Dave McNeff is Pastor of Eaton Congregational Church (part of the Conservative Congregational Christian Conference) www.eatoncc.org

Published in The Tribune on February 4, 2017

It Matters Who We Worship

posted Feb 6, 2017, 12:54 PM by Kelly Griffin

Philip Yancey tells of a 16th century Jesuit missionary, Matteo Ricci, who went to China bearing samples of religious art to illustrate the Christian message. The Chinese loved portraits of the Virgin Mary holding her child, but were repulsed by pictures of Christ’s crucifixion. They insisted on worshiping the Virgin mother rather than the crucified God.

But you don’t have to scrutinize many Christmas cards to realize we do much the same thing. We observe a sanitized, feel-good holiday stripped of purpose and often stripped of the central person.

Is it wrong to celebrate a generic holiday that encourages the best in the human spirit? Of course, not. But to make Christmas that holiday is to rob it of its meaning and to deny the highest reason of all for human celebration – the possibility of forgiveness and a guilt-free relationship with our Creator.

Isn’t it good to promote the values Jesus promoted? Yes. But to do so in the absence of any recognition of the ultimate purpose of His birth is heartbreaking because that purpose matters.

Jesus was born to die. There’s hard evidence. His birth and many of the events of his life predicted hundreds of years beforehand, but so also was the fact and even the nature of his death. Israel’s King David prophesied that the Messiah’s hands and feet would be pierced a thousand years before Jesus’ death by crucifixion (Psa 22:16). 

Jesus himself repeatedly prophesied his own death during his last months on earth. “And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must . . . be killed, and after three days rise again” (Mark 8:31). Jesus’s death was no surprise to the prophetic writers of Scripture, much less to Jesus himself.

It was also unlike any other. It was squarely aimed at mankind’s devastating guilt before God. Isaiah identified both the problem and solution in Isa 53:6: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned – every one – to his own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

How did God do that? Sacrificial death. “But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed” (Isa 53:5).

No person could pay their debt to God except by eternal separation from Him. That’s where Christmas comes in. God Himself solved our problem by sending His own Son to take on human existence – fully God and fully man in one unique person. As a man he lived the perfect life we could not live; as God he paid the infinite price we could not pay. He was born to die.

But the story doesn’t end there. Jesus’ resurrection demonstrated the completeness of his victory over sin and death for all who will believe in him. Christmas is the start of the greatest story ever told. But if we only worship the baby in the manger. or worse, discard him altogether, we deny God’s plan to redeem our fallen race.

Paul summarizes in II Corinthians 5:17: “For our sake he [God the Father] made him [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

David Sandeman a Scottish missionary to China lay dying of cholera when a friend asked how he was. He replied, “I am head-to-foot righteousness.” None of us could claim that on our own. But Christmas is God’s plan to make fallen humanity “head-to-foot righteousness” by faith in him. Jesus himself said, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). 

No one else in history could ever say that. That’s why he alone is worthy of worship. Merry Christmas!

Dave McNeff is Pastor of Eaton Congregational Church (part of the Conservative Congregational Christian Conference) www.eatoncc.org

Published in The Tribune on December 24, 2016

Occasions for Giving Thanks

posted Nov 15, 2016, 12:54 PM by Kelly Griffin

A basic training recruit fell into bed one night after a grueling day. Suddenly, he heard a voice: “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake – thank you, Lord.” That’s one thing to be thankful for – escape! But, in fact, there are many occasions for thanksgiving.The obvious one is in good times. Judah’s King Hezekiah forgot that after God spared him from a deadly illness. “But Hezekiah did not make return [give thanks] according to the benefit done to him, for his heart was proud. Therefore wrath came upon him” (II Chron 32:25).

He was like the woodpecker hammering away during a thunderstorm. A bolt of lightning hit his tree, splitting it from top to bottom. Brushing himself off, he exclaimed, “Boy, that was some peck!” That showed a human tendency to take credit for every success. But God reminds us, “Every good gift, and every perfect gift is from above” (James 1:17). It’s important to give thanks in good times.

But how about when you’ve lost control? The captive Israelite, Daniel, was given a high position in Persian government. Jealous colleagues, knowing of his piety, appealed to King Darius’ vanity to pass a law that no one should petition or pray to anyone except the king.

Daniel got the memo and knew he’d lost control. Nevertheless he went home and opened his windows. Then, “He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God.” Gave thanks? Why? Because he knew that while he’d lost control – God hadn’t. That’s something to be thankful for.

An extreme challenge is to be thankful when there’s not enough. Say what?! Well, Jesus did. He had a crowd of over 5,000 one day. It got late. Dinner time. No food. Jesus asked, “What do we have?” Andrew found one boy with a lunch – five loaves and two fish. He gave it to Jesus. “Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted” (John 6:11). He gave thanks for not nearly enough – and suddenly, it was. Perhaps there’s a lesson there!

Then, how about in tough times. Paul and Silas were beaten and jailed in Philippi for healing a demon-possessed girl. Cold, bleeding, and ridden with pain, what were they doing? “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them” (Acts 16:25). Amazed, no doubt! God released them all and saved the jailer.

But most amazing of all was Jesus. The night before His crucifixion, He dined with His disciples. “And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Mt 26:27-28). Gave thanks!? The disciples didn’t realize what was coming. But Jesus did. The wine represented His own death; yet He gave thanks! Why? Only one answer will do. He knew His death was the price for the forgiveness of their sins – and ours. We all have a lot for which to be thankful.

Winston Churchill once said of the RAF which staved off German invasion of England early in WWII, “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.” At the cross we see a correction: “Never in the field of human failure have so many owed so much to One.” There’s no better time than Thanksgiving to pay that debt. Happy Thanksgiving.

Dave McNeff is Pastor of Eaton Congregational Church (Conservative Congregational Christian Conference) www.eatoncc.org

Published in The Tribune on November 12, 2016.

Someone to Blame

posted Oct 10, 2016, 2:16 PM by Kelly Griffin

A “Peanuts” cartoon shows Peppermint Patty telling Charlie Brown, “Guess what, Chuck. The first day of school and I got sent to the principal’s office. It was your fault.” Charlie Brown responds, “How could it be my fault?” She answers, “You’re my friend, aren’t you, Chuck? You should have been a better influence on me.”

I can’t help but wonder if casting blame like that isn’t at the heart of much of the chaos we are witnessing in our society. Are we are seeking excuses for bad behavior rather than root causes? Isn’t it always easier to blame someone else than take personal responsibility?

Frank Furedi, Professor of Sociology at the University of Kent, UK, suggests that as professional therapy has become a way of life in our culture, people have increasingly defined themselves as victims who have suffered at the hands of parents, teachers, employers, the government or any other ready blameworthy entity.

Leonard Bernstein put it to music in West Side Story when the gang sings: “Dear kindly Sergeant Krupke, / You gotta understand, / It's just our bringin' up-ke / That gets us out of hand. / Our mothers all are junkies, / Our fathers all are drunks. / Golly Moses, natcherly we're punks! / Gee, Officer Krupke, we're very upset; / We never had the love that ev'ry child oughta get. / We ain't no delinquents, / We're misunderstood. / Deep down inside us there is good!”

We’d all like to pin the blame on someone else for society’s ills. It’s been said, “No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible.” But, of course, every snowflake contributes.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in The Gulag Archepelago mused, “If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds . . . we could just destroy them.” Then he continues, “But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart.” Better to blame someone else and destroy them?!

Society’s ills will not diminish until we all take the hard inward look exemplified by the celebrated British journalist G. K. Chesterton, who, when asked by the London Times for an article identifying the problem with the world, responded with a postcard: “I am.”

We need to look inward before casting about outwardly for someone to blame. That’s critical to healing the societal ills. But it’s far more critical for another reason.

God reminds us in Romans 14:12, “So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.” This is the ultimate in personal responsibility – to answer to one’s Creator – no excuses allowed. Daniel Webster knew. When asked, “What is the greatest thought that can occupy a man’s mind?” he replied, “His accountability to God.”

Jesus agreed: “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak” (Matt 12:36).

That’s when we’d all like an advocate like the mother at a teacher conference who said, “My son Paul is a very sensitive boy.” The teacher replied, “Yes, I’ve noticed. How can I help?” Mom replied, “Well, if Paul misbehaves, please spank the boy next to him!”

The good news of Jesus Christ is we have such an advocate -- one who has paid the price for the failures of our hearts. So the Apostle John says, “But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (I John 2:1b). He’s the Savior we all need – not someone to blame, but someone who took the blame.

But the responsibility to accept His advocacy is mine alone.

Dave McNeff is Pastor of Eaton Congregational Church (Conservative Congregational Christian Conference), www.eatoncc.org.

Published in The Tribune on October 1, 2016.

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