A Hole In One

Out he went with his dream to make the changes

And strapped to his waist was the old 45.

The star he wore was made of tin but his heart was gold

And from that heart his dream stayed alive.

But on that day when the sun stood still and the birds ceased their song

He drew that old black powder Colt a millisecond too long.

Oh it discharged a chunk of lead alright, about 250 grain,

But after one small ricochet it landed in his brain.

The whole town mourned for weeks and weeks o’er the grave up on boot hill,

“Here lies the man with heart of gold, and head with leaden pill.”

He may have been right you know, his heart and all that stuff,

But being the fastest draw in the West does not mean you’re so tuff.

He should made the ones he loved a safe place for to lodge,

Instead he spent his days in the sheriffs office in the the city they call “Dodge”.

Dodge he did, all his life, the bullets, cursings, kids and wife.

He was was known for keeping law, but his home was always absent, “Paw”.

 

 

The Intimate Sky

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Can the sunset see us here below

As it shadows the hollows and woodland?

Does it mate with evening and give birth

To midnight’s coal dark sky?

Does it blush with scarlet hues

Because we see the sky’s intimate love song

And hear the Katydid’s soliloquies of end of day?

As stars commence to dance above

And the moon strokes it’s fiddle,

I never cease to be amazed

At eventide’s conception.

The Things We Die For

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1John 2:15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world–the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions–is not from the Father but is from the world. 17 And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. (ESV)

Growing up in church my Pastor would always mention the temptations of the world.  By the time I was a teen I was pretty sure they fit into a nice category of things to avoid.  They were premarital sex, alcoholic beverages, tobacco, movies and rock and roll music.  Although I was attracted by all of these, the list of things made Christianity kind of easy: keep track of the things to avoid, repent if you fail, go to Heaven in the end.

I admit that there were times God caught me listening to Uriah Heep while chewing Red Man, and then my buddy got a job in the movie theater and I could get in for free, so I wasn’t giving Hollywood my money the day I went to see Rocky (yes, I’m that old).  Somehow I managed to avoid things I shouldn’t do before wedlock, but close enough to condemn me.  Perhaps the ladies didn’t appreciate listening to Magician’s Birthday while I spat out the drivers window.  Go figure.

Then one day the lights went on.  I was not living the life of a Christian.  I committed my life to Christ and began a journey that I am still on at my ripe old age of over-the-hill.  However, I learned that giving up worldly things was not so easy anymore.  The rule of thumb became “what glorifies my Savior?” instead of “What must I give up?” Strange, but true: Christianity was no longer about losing things, but gaining admiration for my Lord.

Studying Scriptures like the one above reveals some amazing things.  First, the word “love” is the kind of love that is given, not felt.  Agape means a self-sacrificing love for the sake of someone else.  This means I should no longer sacrifice myself for the things of this world, but rather for the coming Kingdom.  So, in retrospect I did not have to make categories of things to lose, but rather I should no longer give up my life for the things the world offers me.  My life has been given to a much higher cause & Kingdom to come.

Sadly, I lost some things in my earlier years that were not necessary.  One was the respect of unsaved friends who saw me simply as religious rather than Christian.  They knew I had religion because I didn’t drink and my choice of bad words were limited to the ones my Dad said when he hit his thumb with a hammer.  Eventually I told them I was no longer going to be hanging out with them because of my religious convictions.  They had reached the age where going to the club was vogue and I would not go.  How much better it would have been If I kept their acquaintance by doing the things we still could do as friends (hunting, fishing, fixing up a car, etc…).  Instead I chose to completely separate myself from them & today some of them have died without Christ.  Live and learn.

The world taunts us with fame, money, property, esteem, sports, even deer season.  The list is endless.  God has not asked us to give up living in the world, just dying for it.  Today I don’t listen to Uriah Heep, but I am not convicted if I turn up the radio on a classic rock station.  I don’t chew anymore, but if I was challenged to “chew or die” I would be looking for a place to spit.  I know the temptations because, like my Lord, who was tempted in every way just like us, they meet us when our eyes open in the morning.

I am free to serve God while living in this world.  I do not please Him with my political party selection, my bowling average, nor how many points my buck had.  He doesn’t care if my hair is short or long, or if I wear a tie or do not.  All these things will vanish one day.  But the human soul?  It will live forever.  This is where we should invest our effort.

Matthew 16:26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?

There are some things worth dying for.  Give your life to Christ & give Christ to your neighbor.  Enjoy the world while you live here, do it for the sake of Christ.  Give up what you must, but do not give in to religion without a Savior who liberates you from the things the world imprisons you with.  Jesus saves.  Let’s be sure what this means.  Our time here is limited.  Learn the language, speak to the natives, share Jesus, & love your neighbor.

 

 

 

Chief of Sinners

Is it possible to be a Christian who does not react negatively to their culture? As I read the testimonies of early converts I am surprised to find out that Jews remain Jews, Pharisees remain Pharisees, soldiers remain soldiers, and even the thief of the cross died a thief on the cross, after believing on Christ. The more I read from cross-sections of modern day Christian testimonies, the more I am convinced that we are far better off affecting our world with the positive message of salvation rather than the prideful message of how much better of a person I am now. We are changed, but not because we stopped sinning. We are changed because we realize sin displeases our Savior and we work at it with His help.

I am not saying Christians are the same before and after Christ, I am saying when we observe Christians who do not measure up to us it is okay for they are not the same person we are.  A man who works in a factory is different than a clerk who works in a business office.  A woman who lives in the suburbs with five children is different than a woman who is single and flags traffic in work zones for 40 years.  However, the same Christ is mighty to save them both, and by-the-way, make it possible for them to tolerate each other in Christian love (here is something that we Christians should note).

Yesterday I watched a video of a young man who talked about how the Lord changed his life.  He told of how when anyone gets saved they will give up worldly music, worldly friends and worldly dress.  He made Christianity sound like a checklist of things to give up.  He made it obvious that the Holy Spirit will not give a true Christian rest until these things disappear from their lives.  This is a common path to follow for many who are discipled to do so, but it does not reflect the true message of the Gospel.  It only reflects the form of religion he has adopted.

If we superimpose our image over the image of Christ nothing has changed.  His message of “Go and sin no more…” is changed to “go & look religious”.  Make no mistake, you can look however you like as long as you observe modest behavior and a profile that will not draw others away from Christ.  Becoming a Christian does not mean fitting the mold, it means letting Christ save you from sin and fill you with Himself, little-by-little, until He calls you home.

Every Christian is a sinner, but a saved sinner.  We are only different from the rest of humanity by virtue of Who owns us.  Yes, this changes us, but if this means clothes, music preferences and types of friends, then we should wear a toga, listen to timbrel & pipe music and hang out with outcasts.  After all, this was what Jesus did.

It is time to get real.  The world has had enough of our various brands of Christianity.  There is only one Christ and He saves sinners, of whom I am chief.  So when you meet a brother or a sister that you cannot stand remember it was Jesus who bought them, not you, your denomination or your theological slant.

There is a popular Marine tee shirt that says “Kill them all, let God sort em out” that kind of applies here: “Jesus died for them all, let Him have them if He will”.  If He has His way, He will have them all.  Does He have you?

Heb 12:14 Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.

 

Simple Faith, Complex People

Christ and Christianity are two different things, just as God and theology are not the same thing.  There are many theologies depicting God as man sees Him, and there are many branches of Christianity that represent Christ as they want to.  Within the many theologies and many branches there may be those who have it right about God and the Christ but this is very hard to define.  Definition is subject to those who see the object being defined and in this case it is God.

The definition for God is not something we can explain completely and Christianity is not something that man can perfectly gear to represent Christ.  The reason I say this is because we are trying to define & mean to represent is the only uncreated One that always was.  He has defined Himself in very simple terms for humanity so that we would keep it simple. We are not satisfied with simple.

Science is not simple.  Religion is complex.  Faith however, is simple where humanity is concerned.  God asks those who want to join Him to do so by faith, otherwise it becomes impossible to please God, for the Scripture says, ” And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”  (Hb 11:6).  Faith means we believe He exists & rewards those who seek Him.  So when do we start?

Faith is not good enough for most people for it represents humility and simplicity.  So the theologian might define faith in terms that God never did, his reason being: there are others who say they have faith in God, through Christ (this means you’re a Christian), but they are not like me.  He is right in his observation, but he is wrong to believe that everyone must be like him.  They are not like him and the goal of faith is not to be like our brethren but to believe in Christ.

Some believe that all of the spiritual gifts mentioned in the New Testament are still in operation in the Church, some believe only some of them are in operation in the church, and some believe there are more spiritual gifts in operation than the New Testament mentions.  From our point of view we observe those who are not like us and conclude that they are wrong.  They may be.

Some believe communion is a sacrament and the bread and wine become the body of Jesus Christ when it is ingested, some believe the elements of communion only represent Christ’s body and blood and communion is not a sacrament, but an ordinance.  Some believe that grape juice must be substituted for wine (fermented) because drunkeness is a sin and any alcohol at all begins to make a man inebriated.  Somebody is wrong, somebody may be right, but all miss the point.

Faith causes men to seek God and there is only One.  He cannot be what everyone wants Him to be for He only is Who He is.  Things like communion and spiritual gifts are given to us to help us, not divide us.  Once we define God in scientific terms He automatically is reduced to the common thought of man, who is only a creation.  Once we define Him in religious terms we determine that others whose faith looks different than ours are outside the true realm of Christian faith (because ours is the true model).

We must never stop seeking God for without seeking, faith has been quenched and the rewards of God are given to those who seek Him.  We are not seeking God so that we elevate ourselves beyond our brethren, for Christianity is not a contest to see who wins.  We seek God because we are lost without Him.  Christianity is faith that following God’s Son, the Christ, brings us to God, which is something we cannot accomplish ourselves.

You and I have ways of thinking that are arrived at because of how, when, and where we were raised, educated and matured.  There are commonalities with most of us but normally we function based on the person we have become through living.  I was raised an Evangelical in a poor town that was predominately Roman Catholic.  A strong work ethic was common, patriotism was common, the sciences were common, but our view of God was set apart 450 years before I was born.

I was a Protestant boy living among many Catholics.  I played ball with them, took tests with them, ate lunch with them but I did not go to church with them.  I could not attach myself to a Roman Catholic girlfriend because we were “unequally yoked” according to our religious convictions.  More than that, our little church was led by laws that would not even allow me to socialize with teens from other Evangelical churches.  So I knew that if I were to ever marry it would have to be a girl who came from our church, or a church the pastor approved of.

You can imagine how this set of sociological and religious norms shaped my view of God and the Christian faith.  No one was right except us!  I did not know why, but I accepted it because I revered my pastor, my church and my parents (not bad things).

I remember the day I stood up to testify that God had led me to go to Bible College.  This was an epiphany for me and I was excited about the future of following Jesus to a place where I could focus on studying God’s Word.  After the service my pastor railed on me for what seemed like a half an hour, because the college I selected was not approved by him.  Needless to say I had more than one epiphany that night:  my pastor was not leading me, he owned me.  I loved him and to this day I thank God for his influence on my life.

While I went to Bible College I would occasionally come home and go back to my church.  My world changed dramatically and God had showed me that it was my duty as a disciple of Christ to pray that when I went to worship God would show me something from Himself.  It was during this time that my faith grew tremendously.  Eventually a beautiful young woman came to our church to visit; we married, we left and started an adventure of faith together.  I write this thirty-three years later, married to the same woman who is even more beautiful today.

For the record I made a lot of mistakes as a Christian.  I tried the spirits to see if they were of God (so to speak), I experienced varied forms of Christian worship and grew my circle of friends into areas of Christian faith I formerly believed were wrong.  I even allowed myself to listen to styles of worship music that were unapproved by the little church I grew up in.  I had moved from a view of God that was legal to a view of God that was gracious.  I was no longer safe in my religion but free in my faith.

Faith has the unique quality of growing fruit.  Attached to the Vine my little branch began bearing what God had sent up in the sap called “love.”  I am still learning this today and still get conflicted when the false god of legalism wraps at my door.  The old man does not die easy for religion feeds him well.  I give him no hand-outs, but in moments of weakness I let him sleep on the porch.  Soon, I get tired of stepping over him and send him away.

Of all the things I am tempted with it is leaving religion that I struggle with the most.  I know that the intentions of God were not to have the Church so divided over what we think is most right.  Christ is not divided.  There is one Lord, one Faith & one Baptism.  The day we begin defining how that baptism occurs in order to make our house of worship more exclusive; the day we begin to proclaim that this faith is arrived at through a specific order, that may be the day we begin to drift away from the Lord: the day faith is replaced with words written on a doctrinal statement rather than a name written on the heart.

“Beyond the sacred page I seek thee Lord…” these words taken from the hymn “Break Thou the Bread of Life” start so many communion services.  How I wish seeking God was the goal of the Church, rather than seeking church goals.  The True and Living God is not confined to any design of man, but man must confine himself to faith in God by seeking Him and calling on Him while He may be found.  Too many of us look back to the day we called on God as the day we caught Him as Savior.  Faith, regardless of your brand of Christianity, continues to seek God, not figure Him out or “secure” Him.

Job 11:7 “Can you find out the deep things of God? Can you find out the limit of the Almighty? 8 It is higher than heaven–what can you do? Deeper than Sheol–what can you know? 9 Its measure is longer than the earth and broader than the sea.”

Job’s friend Zophar may not have been completely gracious when he visited him, but his above observation was spot on.  God has made faith simple regardless of what religion has done to it.  Pleasing God is attainable as we put out faith in His Christ.  His work is finished so there’s nothing to add.  Please be careful not to remove from others what God has so freely given to them.  Find the core of their faith and if it is Christ welcome your brother or sister into your life; and for as much as possible be at peace with all men.

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Let the Reader Understand

My earliest recollection of religious activity involves kneeling at an altar in the Primitive Methodist Church and asking God to save me.  I was merely six years old in 1965 and knew enough to spell my own name, sing “Jesus Loves Me” and “Hey Get Your Cold Beer” from the Ballantine Beer commercial.  Oh, I was a sinner all right, just ask my family.  Sin was cute at six years but it was still sin.  Only sinners can say, “Sin is cute” by the way: where God is concerned it is deadlier than cyanide.

On that day I did not know if I was reformed, Protestant, dispensational, or pretribulational.  All I knew was that God had saved me and the next time I’d pray, “Now I lay me down to sleep…” that the part that said, “I pray thee Lord my soul to keep…” was for sure.  The Pastor told me so and that was all I had because I could not yet read the Bible for myself.  Life was good in 65 and not only did I have the world by the tail, I also had my name written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.  I was made of steel and though I could not fly nor race locomotives I was Heaven bound.

Since that time I have weathered many theological, biblical and ecclesiastical storms.  I lived when rock & roll and Hell were synonymous, when long hair meant you were backslidden, when mainline churches were liberal, and speaking in tongues was either a sign you were filled with the Spirit or demon possessed.  I was there when the King James Bible was supplanted by the RSV, the Living Bible and then the NIV.  I remember hearing sermon after sermon of how having a straw in your mouth could be misunderstood as a cigarette and was akin to association with the evil of smoking a real cigarette, and how going to a movie was a sign you were unsaved.

I grew my hair & cut my hair.  I bought record albums & burned record albums.  I denied tongues & I spoke in tongues.  I had only one version of Scripture & now I have many.  I shunned the movies and now I go.  Today I wear a beard and have devotions reading the New Living Translation, preach in a Reformed denomination and though I do not practice sign-gifts, yet some of my friends do.

I was well aware that one generation wold not pass after the fig tree budded, and now that generation has been stretched well beyond 40 years.  I knew the “Beast” was a large computer that controlled the world with its information & its number of doom was 666.  I knew that the obscene number of turkey vultures in the sky was a sign that soon “the eagles were gathered together” for the battle of Armageddon, and that was the mid 70’s.

I heard Van Impe, Van Halen, and even cruised town in vans with CB radios.  Yes, I was there.  I was alive when Kennedy’s assassination was aired, when man walked on the moon, when Billy Beer was iconic, and clackers were banned from school for safety reasons.  I watched film strips paired with records in class, heard Vance Havner speak in person at Sandy Cove, and was sure that Christ would return before the turn of the Century.  I was so well-informed and so wise.

So here I am in 2017 and have my own version of the “Beast” sitting on my lap, where I can find scores of Bible versions,  movies and classic rock videos.  On the same evil machine I write to you about my Christian life and try to express through experience what no commentator could possibly have predicted 50 years ago.  Hair length does not matter today & I know I am just blessed to have any at all.  The Hal Lindsey collection of books went to Good Will and has been replaced by pros and cons of reformed theology.

Ladies and gentlemen, members of the jury, I have reached a decision: we are easily deceived even though we are saved.  I am deeply concerned about Christianity today.  We are about to make the same mistakes over again.  We will fight the wrong fight and call ourselves Christian soldiers.  The battle isn’t social, economical, eschatological, political or (forgive me) doctrinal.  Yes, I know doctrine is so very important, but every Christian I know has their own set of doctrines.  The  battle is for the human soul.  Now THAT is the doctrine that upstages all others, & we should not mess with it.

The most outstanding experience of my Christian life happened in 1965 when I could not even spell the word “Bible” were it not for the song, “The B-I-B-L-E”.  I am just as saved today as I was back then because of my faith in Jesus Christ.  I didn’t know if faith was a gift, nor did I know if I was saved that day or from the foundation of the world.  It really didn’t matter.  Had I walked out in front of a truck when I left the Primitive Methodist Church that day, and never weathered the last 50 some years of craziness, I would be with Jesus.

The fact is I have been with Jesus all along.  Long or short hair, bell bottoms or not, KJV or ESV, in the movie theater and out of the theater, with the rock station or the Christian station, or with or without anything other than my Savior.  Count it all rubbish for the sake of knowing the Lord (Philippians 3:8).

I was sure that cigarettes & beer had been missed in the Ten Commandments.  I was sure worldly music had supplanted fornication as a sin.  I was sure that Lutherans were all lost and that Catholics didn’t stand a snowball’s chance in the lake of fire.  Well, none of these things keep people from eternity with Christ, though in my opinion men are deceived by such things.  One thing keeps us from Christ: ourselves.  Without Him we are lost no matter what we think or believe.

Satan is at work against the human soul.  His deceptions are many and varied.  He takes what is good and tempts us to mix poison in with the truth.  In our attempts to win people to Christ we identify those who are lost.  Their lostness in not based of what they do, but from whose race they come from: Adam’s.  Judgment is the outcome of the sinner who stands before God without Jesus.  They can be Reformed, Pentecostal, with or without a suit, or a theological degree.  They can can be Democrats or Republicans, they can have various opinions about global this or that.  Their jargon can include the latest terms that identify their convictions.  But without Christ they are lost, lost, lost.

Jesus Christ is poorly portrayed by our objections.  He is best portrayed in our affirmations.  Christians stand against sin because it is the thing Christ died to defeat, not because He wants us to be at war with our neighbors, culture and government.  Through the ages Christians have made many mistakes about what it means to be one.  Corrections are necessary and the outcome is often less than what it ought to be.  But I am one only because of Jesus Christ.

To the chagrin of many who will find fault with this article I say, “That is fine & expected”.  You have fought hard to get to the place you are in your Christian experience.  By the grace of God you are who you are and believe what you do.  But know this: You would not be a Christian were it not for Jesus.  However people get to know Him, they must know Him.  Whoever they are, no matter what their story is.

Mat 7:21-24 “Not everyone who calls me ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the Kingdom of heaven, but only those who do what my Father in heaven wants them to do. When the Judgment Day comes, many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord! In your name we spoke God’s message, by your name we drove out many demons and performed many miracles!’ Then I will say to them, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you wicked people!’ “So then, anyone who hears these words of mine & obeys them is like a wise man who built his house on rock.

(GNB)

Music In the Park

Last night I went to hear a friend play his drums in a classic rock band called R.A.T.L., each letter represents the first initial of the band members’ names.  This pastor sat among what I thought would be a wild & rebellious crowd of pot-heads, but they turned out to be mostly retired people from the community who came out to support “Music In the Park”.  Some children danced around as sounds from Jefferson Airplane and The Doobie Brothers filled the air, but with the exception of a few people who are always obvious at such events, it was a nice quiet evening.  My wife & I finished off the evening with a “Tastee Freeze” at the drive in.

At one point a fellow came around to sell chances for a 50-50 drawing with the proceeds going back into “Music In the Park” events.  I knew I couldn’t gamble but wanted to support the effort to clean up our dying coal town, now rated among the top slum cities in Pennsylvania.  I told the young man I wanted to make a donation and handed him four bucks.  He insisted I take a ticket & then donate the money back if I should win the drawing.  Not willing to make a scene, I slipped the ticket into my pocket and returned my attention to the young lady singing “I’m Gonna Harden My Heart”.  Ouch!  Certainly, I did not want that sound to be my signature.

At last the drawing came, the winning number was read and I could rest easy.  I lost.  My wife looked at me and said, “Well, you’re off the hook!”  Meaning: No one will know you bought a 50-50 ticket.  Turning to go talk to some friends, my wife left me alone to ponder my thoughts for a while.  Glad to have all charges dropped, I relaxed in my lawn chair.

I thought to myself, “Self, it was really dumb to get all stressed-out over a 50-50 ticket that could have “sold your soul” for $51 worth of winnings.  How could I get so bent out of shape because of one little red ticket?” It was then I realized my wife had gone to talk to some folks from the church who also attended the concert.  Busted!  Now everyone will know Pastor Ferd bought a ticket and is in favor of gambling and who knows what other slimy, worldly practices that harness lost souls all over the Coal Region.

I looked for a way out but there was none.  I panicked, sweat pouring from my head as I squirmed helplessly, scrunching up the little red ticket in my pocket like a gum wrapper from the gum I got from a friend as a kid in Sunday School.  I wasn’t supposed to have gum in church, but now my friend knew, I knew and especially God knew that was enjoying a stick of Bazooka Joe while we learned about Moses and the Red Sea on the flannelgraph.  Hell had opened it mouth and was ready to swallow us whole right there in the church basement.

Let the reader understand: This is not what church is all about.  It is not what grace is all about.  It is not what life is all about.  People need the Lord and it just so happens that there was a nice bunch of them at the concert.  I hope they saw this Christian buy a ticket, and even though I wanted to be publicly vindicated by winning & re-donating the money, I was okay with what happened.  I had no sin to confess except for the shadow of legalism that always follows me around to such things.

Pastor Ferd is a sinner saved by grace, but even more I am a saved sinner.  Justified without signing anything, sanctified day-by-day, and a child of God by His own grace & mercy.  The color of my car, the length of my tie, the version of my Bible, and especially a little red ticket, is no match for the power of God to save the lost.  Have a great Lord’s Day!