Wednesday, March 26, 2008

News From Pigeon Forge

I am currently in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee attending the Great Smokey Mountains Grace Bible Conference. I am speaking nightly on the topic "Who Art Thou Lord?" It is fascinating to see the unique way God makes Himself known in Paul's epistles. Attendance has been good and daily studies excellent. It is refreshing to hear so many different men preach the message of grace--the same truth packaged in different containers!

The Dowell family goes all out to be generous hosts. Their commitment to the Word rightly divided and to what we are doing through Grace School of the Bible is unwavering. We thank God for them.

Last night we had our annual "slider night." If you don't know, "slider" is the nickname for the little Krystal (up north they are Whitecastle) hamburgers. They are "belly-burn" specialties--especially when consumed between 10 and midnight. This morning there was much physical evidence on display of the results of such consumption! But they are "soooo gooood" going down--all the more so with a cold Dr. Pepper!!!

One special treat at this conference is enjoying Jim Wiltshire leading the music. He not only leads the congregational singing and coordinates the special music, but provides his own unique touch to it all. Jim has wide experience on the gospel music circuit, he and his trumpet go together with a natural grace. When Jim sings you not only hear his accomplished voice but, more importantly, you hear his heart--a heart filled with the love and grace of God. It's always good to have a time of fellowship with Jim and Carol.

Several have emailed to asked if there have been any "controversies" at this conference yet. Interesting how expectations arise! No. Things have been happy and forward moving this week--sorry to disappoint.

Cynthia was not able to accompany me. She was in Arizona last week tending grandkids. She is at home this week (while I am in Tennessee) doing the same and she will be going to Florida next week (when I get back home again) for more. Proves that grandkids trump grandfathers at any and all times. I have answered about 200 emails, written 8 letters, prepared three weeks of radio messages along with next Sunday's studies in Colossians and Galatians for Shorewood. Haven't been to one antique store, haven't visited one variety shop, haven't seen any of the sites; have missed my wife!

During the midst of this week I received a disturbing report about problems developing with two of our preacher friends. It took the wind out of my sails (Prov. 15:13; 17:22). Here is not the place to go into this, but it does demonstrate the unrelenting assaults of the adversary and how they often come at moments when we least expect them--when you are breathing deeply the refreshing air of a mountain top, you are more susceptible to the "stink bombs"! If I have learned anything, it is the importance of keeping a strong commitment to boldly "preach the Word." It is the strong proclamation of the sound doctrine we stand on that protects us from those who do not stand on the same foundation. A "hot pulpit" is one of our greatest protections. I'm going to remember that when I am preaching tonight!


Monday, March 17, 2008

A Key Component In O'Hair's Success

Some time ago I posted some observations about the influence of J.C. O’Hair and why he was such a dynamic leader. I promised a follow on comment on what I believe is the mostly overlooked key to his impact. Saturday I once again was reminded about all this in a most personal way as we celebrated the homegoing of another one of “O’Hair’s men,” George Reihmer. George was one of my heroes—like Franklin, Roy, Bill, Wally, Bob, Oliver, Ed, Al, Stanley, et al had also been. All of them except Bob are now in heaven!

First, the overlooked key: O’Hair’s ministry was grounded in a strong local church. It is really that simple. Oh, it was nothing even remotely like a “normal” local church! No. North Shore Church turns out to be one of the most unique local churches one could ever imagine. I was reminded of that again as we had a memorial service for George.

I could digress for hours/pages! Let me try to make a brief point. When we came to Chicago in August of 1979 we were almost immediately thrust into participation with NSC because we lived in their parsonage when we first arrived. Even though I came to Chicago to work at Berean Bible Society, it was the saints at NSC who provided the support needed by my family to make the adjustments to our new surroundings. These saints opened their hearts to us as no one had, embraced us and we almost immediately became family.

We discovered quickly that these were still “O’Hair’s people.” His ministry stilled lived in them—though he had gone to heaven in 1958! All of the elders of the church had served with O’Hair, although they were young when they did so. And his impact was still deeply impressed on them. Their unrelenting commitment to the Word rightly divided and the bold proclamation of the grace message—to their “ministry on this corner”—found an echo in my heart. Soon we were one-of-heart in every sense of the word. The simple fact that I was overwhelmed with the privilege of “preaching in O’Hair’s pulpit” was enough to make a place for me in their hearts! That they responded with such enthusiasm to the preaching wrote them large in my heart in return.

What all this did for me was provide a first hand insight into a ministry that endured through the decades. O’Hair (really his ministry) still lived in them. These saints knew how to instinctively “take care of each other,” they recognized sound doctrine when they heard it (and when they didn’t!) and would support in sacrificial ways efforts to maintain its clarity and get it out to others. In the face of overwhelming odds, they were determined to keep the work going, having a real sense of their responsibilities to pass the baton to the next generation.

I learned from them what “communion” is really all about. They taught me how to deal with disagreements—some very real and far-reaching—with grace, integrity and gentleness. I was schooled first hand in a level of commitment to ministry that was both natural and all consuming. I didn’t learn a lot of new doctrine from them; I just learned grace as a way of life as I had never experienced it before.

What I discovered was a unique congregation of saints who had in-fleshed the message of grace—not simply as a doctrine to believe but as a life to live. We talk about it, exhort about it, pray and long for it….they actually lived it! And, amazingly, were mostly unconscious of doing so!

When I would talk with them about the “old days” I would discover, for example, that there was once a Chicagoland Men’s Fellowship that meet regularly for years and had an attendance in the 400-500 range. What happened to it? Where had it gone? Why? As I listened to the accounts of those who had been there, I realized that this area wide group was really fueled by the ministry of NSC. They opened it to all comers, didn’t make it simply “their” ministry, but it was the dynamic of NSC that carried it into amazing ministries. And it was after O’Hair died and the leaders who worked with him began to also move to heaven that it began to die off.

The grace movement itself was born and carried on the shoulders of strong, effective, aggressive, regionally influential local churches. It was not para-church organizations (e.g., Milwaukee Bible Institute/Grace Bible College, Berean Bible Society, Grace Mission, Bethesda Mission, Things To Come Mission, Grace Gospel Publishers, Grace Publications, Grace Gospel Fellowship, etc. to name a few of the more visible ones) that propelled the so-called grace movement. It was O’Hair and NSC (whose radio and literature shook the whole nation); it was Harry Bultema in Michigan; it was Prince in Minneapolis; it was Lloyd Peterson in Seattle impacting the whole northwest and Canada; it was Henry Grube and Roy Lange in the deep south; it was Ike Sidebottom in Texas; it was Wasson in Evansville; it was Elmer Shaver in Tennessee; it became Henry Kulp in central Pennsylvania; it was William Root in southern California; it was Anderson in the Philippines; it was Vinton in Africa; it was……well the list goes on and on. You get the idea? It was the Pauline Ministry Model in action! Strong, aggressive local churches doing the work of the ministry and thus impacting whole regions. Sort of like I Thessalonians 1 in action.

That’s what I discovered in the saints of North Shore Church. It’s what they taught me. No, not the “doctrine” of the matter. I already knew that. They “put it into shoe leather,” into actual life, and welcomed us into that life as full participants. It’s been something very special.

Unfortunately, for whatever the reason, the grace movement’s leadership moved out of the hands of strong local churches after the passing of the O’Hair era leaders. By the way, I’ve often pointed out that O’Hair was simply one man who really represented literally hundreds of lesser known men who were doing the same thing across the breath of our nation (and around the world!). The result was the battles of the “big guys” who replaced these God-appointed leaders during the 60’s and 70’s. Without question there were battles that needed to be fought during that era. But the fact is that the doctrine of separation cannot be properly understood, much less practiced, outside the context of the local church. That simple misstep is at the core of the failure of the grace movement to successfully deal with the doctrinal/practical failures of that period.

Happily a new era has dawned. Oh, it has emerged from “outside the camp” of the established arena known as the grace movement. But it is real, vital, growing and going forward at a good pace. Because it is not “David-in-Saul’s-armor,” not shackled with the “organizational” problems faced by much of the “older” grace movement, there is a freedom that seems to be frightening to those of the old school. That’s ok. We certainly understand. They don’t know what to make of us! That’s not unexpected. We aren’t all there is—but we is! And we are the future. There’s a lot more to say about that, but that’ll have to wait for the future!

I am currently about the same age that George Reihmer was when I first met him. As I look over my own shoulder, there are generations following me who are the age I was then. I pray daily that I can offer some of the ensample provided me by those who have gone before. Of one thing I am sure: it will only be accomplished in the context of good, sound local-church-based ministry.


Saturday, March 15, 2008

Praying for Susan

In the late 90’s I was in New Zealand. When Dan, Ted and I landed, there was a smiling group waiting to greet us. The broadest smile was on the face of a man we came to know as Abbas. He was an Iranian who had fled his homeland because of death threats. He had relocated his family to NZ and after awhile first his wife, Susan, and then he came to trust the Lord Jesus Christ as their Saviour. We had a delightful time getting to know this lovely couple and their family. By the way, Abbas had taken the western name “John” but often used Abbas as an opportunity to get an opening for the gospel. I continue to think of him as Abbas! I still remember that smiling face at the airport holding the big sign that read “Eph. 3:9.”

Over time as they moved to Australia. They are outstanding testimonies for the gospel of grace, have a grasp of right division and a zeal to share the grace message with others.

Now a note comes from Susan that she will be returning to Iran for six weeks because her mom recently had a stroke. She writes: “This would be my second time going there after 20 years. Please pray that the Lord uses me to be a witness to my loved ones back there and whoever he chooses. Please also pray for my protection in this journey. I would appreciate your prayers a lot.”

She leaves today. I’m praying for Susan. I thought you might like to join me in putting Colossians 4:3,4 into practice.


P.S. Why not pray for Abbas too! He is staying home taking care of their two daughters--or perhaps, better said, they are taking care of him! Come to think of it, I'll be praying for all of them! Cynthia is leaving for a week in AZ tomorrow, so I'll be praying for myself next week too!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Two Days In Nashville

I’m just back from Nashville and the National Religious Broadcasters annual convention. Tom Bruscha, Mike Berry and I spent Monday and Tuesday taking in the trade show side of the event and enjoying seeing the “big guys” doing their thing. We made some good contacts for the future development of our Forgotten Truths show and learned about new technologies involved in its production. So it was a worthwhile few days.

One highlight was attending President Bush’s appearance on Tuesday. What ever you think of Bush and his policies, one thing is clear when you see him in person: he speaks with the personal conviction of one truly committed to his views. He doesn’t do a lot of the normal “political speak” but simply lays out his intentions. He could never find a friendlier audience than the NRB—no wonder he has spoken there every year of his presidency. Tom and I sat six rows from the front--right behind Jim Dobson! Impressed yet?

Tuesday afternoon we attended a screening of Ben Stien’s upcoming movie, Expelled! It is a documentary examining why Intelligent Design is forbidden to be taught—or even discussed—in academia. It is a little long (90 minutes or so) but is full of powerful interviews—especially with those who oppose ID. Stien’s interview with Richard Dawkins is a classic and worth the whole show! It is due for release in theaters in mid April. You’ll want to see it when it comes out--opening weekend if possible.

All three of us were sick with chest colds. As we parted Wednesday at the airport, we promised to get well soon. Hope Tom and Mike keep their promise. I’m working on mine--slowly.

While there, I got the call that George Reihmer had gone to be with the Lord. George and Isabell are long time members of our church, going back to the O’Hair days. In fact, they were one of the last couples married by O’Hair—they have old home movies of the event and its interesting to see Mr. O’Hair in action! George was a living example of a Christian Gentleman and will be sorely missed. As our “old timers” keep passing off the scene, we rejoice in their departure to be with Christ but feel the real absence of their wisdom and influence. It makes those of use who are beginning to move toward that eldership status more conscious of our own responsibilities!


Thursday, March 6, 2008

Another Important Milestone

I was in Detroit Tuesday for TV taping. This month marked the beginning of our 19th year of making the program. We have distributed it via cable public access channels across the country all this time. Hundreds of cable outlets have carried the Message of Grace into homes, restaurants, motels, etc. and the response has been amazing.

It was in 1990 that some of the saints at Grace Bible Church, Warren, Michigan volunteered to take the necessary training and do the actual production work. Pastor Thomas Bruscha has been the director all these years and the saints of GBC have been staunch backers of this ministry.

As Tom and I talked about this anniversary while he drove me to the airport Wednesday morning, he made a significant point: “That’s really what ministry is about—being there and doing the work; not letting the job go undone.”

That is the spirit that led us to develop a version of the program to air over broadcast stations. Forgotten Truths began airing over the CBS affiliate in Detroit, moved on to a couple other stations and then on to Inspiration Network. For the past four years it has aired via satellite over DirectTV. When you combine responses to Forgotten Truths with the calls and letters from the public access cable version of the show, we have been quietly making a real impact across the country for the clarity of the message of grace. It seems that I meet folks in every conference I attend who first came in contact with us through the TV program. PTL!

Tom, Mike Berry and I will be going to Nashville next week to attend the National Religious Broadcasters Convention. This is a trade show for radio and TV stations and ministries. Our purpose in going is to get better acquainted with current technology and what opportunities may be available in the future. It should be an interesting couple of days.

AN UPDATE: Seems I over did it again. We had a family night at church last Friday, Cynthia and I had our grandkids for the weekend, I preached Sunday a.m., made hospital calls in the afternoon and taught in the p.m. Monday I had to run errands most of the day.

The result was that by the time I got to Detroit I couldn’t make but three programs Tuesday evening. I came home with a chest cold. Alex taught Wednesday evening while I was in bed with fever.

As my radiation treatment progresses the symptoms keep evolving. Most of the acute pain has subsided and now I mainly face the continuing fatigue. The challenge is to be able to anticipate when I am going to need greater energy levels (e.g., to preach twice on Sunday, travel to speaking engagements, etc.) and do some forward planning so as to not be unable to function up to needed levels. I used to go until the job was done; now I go until I’m done! When I feel ok, I tend to go full bore. That, however, leaves me “out of gas” before too long. So….I’m learning….its aggravating…its gotten old….frustrating….I’m ready for it to be over!!! Then I relax, renew my mind and find that God’s grace is just as wonderful as it is reported to be! It is so amazing to be resting in the all-sufficient and over abounding grace of our Lord Jesus Christ!


Sunday, March 2, 2008

Melting Like Snow

Its amazing how fast snow can melt. We’ve had unusual snowfall this winter. February saw snow almost every day of the month—even with the extra day this year! I shoveled snow Saturday morning (two-to-three inches fell during the night) and hardly had a place to put it along our driveway.

Today the temps went up to the low 50’s for the first time in weeks. When we got home from church this evening—we were there all day; I made hospital calls during the afternoon—we could see our grass in the front yard! A few hours ago there was over a foot of snow covering everything (with piles as high as 5 feet); now only small, scattered piles remain! So quickly things can change.

This reminds me of the recent attempts to popularize “new” arguments for atheism. When the heat of honest inquiry is applied, they melt like snow on a warm day—leaving only unseemly piles of dirt behind.

A couple of weeks ago I finally got around to reading Richard Dawkin’s 2007 best seller, The God Delusion. I like to read the opposition but don’t buy their books until they hit the discount counter! It was a very disappointing exercise.

I had actually expected more: new arguments, new insights, new something! Fact is I found Christopher HitchensGod Is Not Great—How Religion Poisons Everything a bit more entertaining than either Dawkin or Daniel Dennett’s Breaking the Spell—Religion as Natural Phenomenon.

Turns out, however, that there’s really nothing new about the “new” atheism, except attitude. These guys are really angry! Their new twist is simple: Theists are dangerous.

“Faith is one of the world’s great evils, comparable to the small pox virus but harder to eradicate,” writes Dawkins. “Religion is capable of driving people to such dangerous folly that faith seems to me to qualify as a kind of mental illness.”

Hitchens’ analysis of religion demonstrates one truism: Ridicule (or sneering, or swearing) is not an argument. He simply employs ad homonyms, red herrings, hasty generalizations, and fallacies of all sorts.

Dawkins is worse, dealing so unfairly and outrageously that one wonders that his reputation would survive. It will, of course, but only because the choir to whom he preaches is already converted—not because he presents any real threat to those he opposes. He isn’t even able to do damage to false religion, much less the truth of God’s Word! His treatment of abortion alone is so outlandish it is hard to believe he is serious. And his claims regarding the doctrine of the trinity are so off the wall one suspects his research abilities—to say nothing of his ability to deal honestly with facts.

Rather than being “steamrolled” by the aggressive attitude, elitist snobbery and overstated claims, the fact is Christianity is a cause for good not evil in the world. The problem is religious error: either false religion, or truth improperly or inconsistently applied.

We should remember that this is the world we minister in. It’s held in the grip of the “delusion” of error, desperately needing the light of Truth. That’s where we come in! A confused and apostate Christianity is no help. Only the message of grace boldly proclaimed from the rightly divided Word will do.

So, as the snow melts on a warm day so does the boisterous threats of atheism when put under the light of truth. But have no fear; the weather report calls for more snow to fall tomorrow—and the Fools of Psalm 14:1 will continue to repeat their mantra, no matter what the evidence really is. It’s a “heart issue,” you see.