MY FRIEND FRED

February 28, 2021

Everyone needs a friend like my friend, Fred. This dear brother in Christ has a laugh that will chase the bluest blues away merely by saying, “Hello.” His laughter-filled greeting, whether by phone or in person, took leave briefly when His beloved bride went to be with Jesus last year, but God was gracious and gave it back to him after a respectable grieving period. Some folks would say Fred has ample challenges to his happiness. At age 91, he needs a few fancy gadgets to get up-and-down in his favorite lounger and move around the house that he still lives in alone. Recently, while doing what old men do in the middle of the night, he fell and badly shattered his right arm and shoulder. It took a great deal of persistence and pain to get his good hand over to his fancy gadget watch where he was able to call 911. The docs fixed him up with some structural metal and screws and he is in rehab for an extended period with no visitors allowed.  But of course friendly Fred, by God’s grace, took his laughter with him and now he cheers up the army of medical technicians who parade in-and-out of his room through the day. His sunny disposition shines right through my cell phone when I call him.

Oliver Wendell Holmes said of his friend and oft-times dinner companion, world-renowned Harvard Professor Louis Agassiz:

“His social hour no leaden care alloys,

His laugh rings loud and mirthful as a boy’s.

That lusty laugh the Puritans forgot,

What ear has heard it and remembers not?”

I don’t think Fred would appreciate the dig at that false Puritan stereotype any more than I do, but those of us who are blessed to be his friend would agree Oliver nailed one of Fred’s most endearing traits.

More importantly, Fred, the epitome of a godly, generous family patriarch, is an ebullient witnesses to our God, who laughs, too (Psalm 2:4).  And what better way to witness to Him than to live out the sunset of our lives with the laughter-filled joy that comes from the knowledge and assurance of what awaits a child of God.

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice” (Philippians 4:4a).

See you in church.

BE OF GOOD CHEER, MR. RIDLEY

February 21, 2021

“Be of good cheer, Master Ridley, and play the man, for we shall this day light such a candle in England as I trust by God’ grace shall never be putout.” That advice was offered to Nicholas Ridley by Bishop Hugh Latimer, in 1555, as fires were lit under both of them tied to stakes in the public square in England during the Protestant Reformation under Bloody Queen Mary.

Today we live in a post-Christian, post-truth culture where we are increasingly ridiculed and marginalized, but I don’t know of a single Christian who is being forced to stand knee-deep in kindling. While the Bible prophesies hard-times, we are far from Reformation or Revelation levels.

There is a street name mentioned in the Bible—Straight Street (Acts 9:11)—and archeologists have even found an old engraved stone in Damascus indicating such, but nowhere does it mention Easy Street. In fact, as Jesus was briefing his disciples on his imminent crucifixion he said, I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

Luther laid it out this way: “When the offense of the cross ceases, when the rage of the enemies of the Cross ceases, when everything is quiet, it is a sign that the devil is the doorkeeper of the Church and that the pure doctrine of God’s Word is lost.” (Commentary on Galatians)  

Well, then, we must be in great shape! Keep up the good fight, Christian! You can count on the win. Latimer’s light has not gone out, nor will it. Like “the Light of Men…the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5).

“Count it all joy, my brothers…” (James 1:2).

See you in church.

BE A BEREAN

February 14, 2021

The culture is suffering a hurricane of false gospels. Nonsensical slogans untethered from Truth or reason are proclaimed as wisdom of the ages. Aged adolescents work themselves into emotional frenzies under absurdly addled notions, and the cry of their depraved hearts makes headlines. They are like so many “… children tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (Ephesians 4:14).

“…but he’s got a good heart.” How often have you heard that excuse? Jesus said, “…No one is good except God” (Mark 10:18). Heresies are spawned in “good hearts.” A tired old English proverb claims “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” 

Scottish pastor Horatius Bonar (1808-1889) said, “…let us beware of that unscriptural, unphilosophical sentimentalism which affirms that the heart may be all right when the head is all wrong.” 

Bonar’s contemporary down in London, CH Spurgeon, concisely echoed, “A man may be sincere, but sincerely wrong.”

 Doctrine is vital—false gospels abound.
 Be a Berean—prove your dogma sound. 

“…they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11).

There is one anchor and only one in this hurricane. There is one absolute truth and only one in this nonsensical age: Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” All else ends badly forever.

“There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:4-6).

See you in the church of the One True God.

BONE DRIVER FOR A DAY

February 10, 2021
The Memphis Belle with instructor pilot, Maj. “Blinkie” Smithie above, JDW below
L to R: B-1, B-2, B-52. Pic by Matt Haskell (check out his Fb page)

This old man is dreaming dreams again…(Joel 2:28), the reminiscing kind, stirred up by last Sunday evening’s impressive formation fly-by of a B-1, B-2, and B-52 at the Super Bowl in Tampa Stadium. I’m not a bomber guy, fighters were my thing, but 21 years ago I had the extraordinary blessing of flying in the left seat of a B-1 in another very special fly-by. With its wings swept back it felt a lot like my beloved old F-100, complete with control stick between the legs, and it rolls just pretty as you please. If I had to fly a bomber, this would be my choice. The following is from Grace in the Growing Season, by JDW.

The Memphis Belle rolled wings level at 1000 feet above the ground over the “Initial Point,” an irregular patch of red Piedmont clay amid the new green of spring, on our run-in line to the target. The late afternoon sun in our eyes reduced visibility to a mile and a half as we stared intently through the windshield, searching for memorized landmarks. The target was nine miles away and we were traversing a mile every twelve seconds, leaving no time to consult a map. Flying into the sun instead of coming out of it violated normal rules of engagement, but this was not a bombing run, nor was it World War II…and this Memphis Belle was not a famous B-17 (now in the USAF Museum in Dayton). It was March 24, 2000, and we were flying an aviator’s memorial salute in a B-1B bomber, affectionately called the “Bone” (that’s B-1 without the hyphen).

Somewhere up ahead a crowd of grateful citizens assembled in a cemetery behind a little country church in western North Carolina. They were there to honor an American hero. Thomas Ferebee, the Enola Gay bombardier who pickled off the atomic bomb on August 6, 1945, ending World War II, was being laid to rest. The tension mounted as the miles streaked by under the drooping nose of the B-1, driven by Major “Blinkie” Smithie of the Georgia Air National Guard in the right seat. We had only one chance to get it right and there had already been a major adjustment. After taking off at the precise time needed to give us a few extra minutes for contingencies, the funeral director relayed a message by cell phone, forwarded to our cockpit enroute, saying our Time-over-Target needed to be moved up 18 minutes. That’s not a problem for a sleek bomber with four powerful engines and wings that can be swept back 65 degrees in flight, making it look and perform much more like a rocket than the original World War II Memphis Belle. Blinkie advanced the throttles and we accelerated like a Harley Davidson.

It was an extraordinary providence that put this writer in that cockpit on such a momentous occasion. By the grace of God and generosity of the Georgia Air National Guard (a story for another day) I was getting an orientation flight in one of America’s best peacekeepers 27 year after I completed my hitch as a USAF fighter pilot. We were less than thirty seconds from the target now and recognition would have to be instantaneous. “Cunni” and “Buckit,” our offensive and defensive systems officers, called out course corrections over the intercom from their battle stations behind us filled with a dazzling array of electronics, all beyond the comprehension of old vets like Thomas Ferebee and me.

Then, out of the haze, a meandering country road materialized with cars parked bumper-to-bumper, right on the nose. We passed low over the mourners at a respectfully slow funeral pace—300 knots—with wings spread like a gliding goose. Blinkie tapped the afterburners, pulled the nose up, banked to the right, and that thoroughly modern Memphis Belle spiraled upward above our departed brother-in-arms as if our supersonic angel were transporting his soul to heaven. Invisible and insignificant though my role was, chills ran down my spine.

It was over, but the world is still a dangerous place and the citizen-soldiers of the Georgia Air National Guard had a critical mission to practice. We swept the wings back again and flew off on a simulated strike sortie. Blinkie and the boys put that beautiful Bone through its paces and I experienced first-hand its amazing capabilities, a mighty comforting memory in the middle of the night in this troubled world.

Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers…” (Matthew 5:9). I believe He is similarly disposed toward noble peacekeepers.

A Lament: Our Winter of Discontent

February 7, 2021

 
 
 O God, our country is a mess.
 Can we endure in such duress?  
 Burned out downtowns and blood-stained streets 
 And threats of more such horrid feats. 
  
 Our governance through compromise
 By noble souls, good-willed and wise,
 Once deemed the wisdom of the age,
 Has been usurped by dolts who rage.
  
 Our prez takes pride in piety
 And puts his soul in jeopardy--
 With sinful edicts he mocks God,
 Who in due time will wield the rod.
  
 Elections used to set our fate.
 Now they excite a vicious hate,
 Our common ground has disappeared.
 Are these the end-times we have feared?
  
 PC has spread—metastasized—
 And politics have putrefied.
 World hist'ry proves internal rot
 Can fell a state without a shot.
  
 Kids choose their sex despite the facts
 And moms kill babes in selfish acts.
 Sex deviants think that they have won,
 Till that day comes all meet the Son.
  
 There was a day we used to say
 That God smiles on the USA,
 But in His wrath we too can trust—
 God gave them up in all their lust. (Ro. 1:24) 
   
 Such sinfulness will not end well,
 His Word declares eternal hell.
 They've swapped God's Truth for Satan's lie,
 And been appointed twice to die. (Rev. 20:14)
  
 John Adams' wife once wrote to him:
 It's God who mounts this whirlwind.
 In sovereign grace this storm He steers,
 Trust Him alone to calm your fears.
  
 'Twas good advice from Abigail
 Her family Bible she knew well.
 Our God's in charge and for His kin
 The end will be a glorious win!  

"And unto him who mounts the whirlwind and directs the storm, I will cheerfully leave the ordering of my lot, and whether adverse or prosperous days should be my future portion, I will trust in His right hand to lead me safely through, and after a short rotation of events, fix me in a state immutable and happy…Adieu!" (Abigail Adams in a letter to her husband, Sep. 16, 1775, quoted in John Adams, a biography, by David McCullough.)
  
 Dear friends, consider Mrs. Adams' calm assurance and bold conviction during a perilous time for our country…and emulate Abigail.
  
 “...fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).
  
 “Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation. When his breath departs, he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish. Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God” (Psalm 146:3-5). 
  
 See you in church. 


COBBLESTONES AND LIVING STONES

January 31, 2021

“And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26b).

“There are some poor souls who seem to die willing to be judged by the law [The Ten Commandments]. I have lived a decent life, they will say; I have been a harmless, quiet-living man; and I can see no reason why the wrath of God should ever come upon me.  Oh! brethren, if this is your case, it is very plain that you have not had a divine awakening…. You are as dead and unawakened as the stones you walk on.” (Robert Murray M’Cheyne, 1813-1843, Dundee, Scotland)

In the following century, Martin Lloyd-Jones said it perhaps with a little more tact but no less forcefully: “As long as a man thinks he can save himself he remains lost.”

I suspect there are not a few who self-identify as Christians who will be offended by these truth claims. Friend, if you find these statements shocking or offensive, go to the link below and read what it takes to awaken a stone. If you are a “living stone” (1 Peter 2:5), go there and be renewed in your gratitude for what our Sovereign God has done for you: JD Wetterling – A Personal Invitation

No one perceives Eternal Truths--
The dead don’t comprehend 
Unless by Grace rebirth ensues,
When a hard heart He’ll mend.

But God … when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— (Ephesians 2:4-5). 

See you in church.

BUCK UP, CHRISTIAN!

January 24, 2021

Conservative Christian leaders and pastors are warning of hard times ahead. John MacArthur told his congregation last Sunday (Jan. 17), in reviewing God’s grace in the amazing achievements of his church through the challenges of 2020, “We don’t win down here.” Author Rod Dreher said, “Jesus Christ promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against his church, but he did not promise that hell would not prevail against his church in the West” (The Benedict Option).  A chilling thought indeed as ill winds blow in America.

The ever-optimistic Apostle Paul, whose back bore the tracks of his hard times, who endured injustice second only to our Savior Himself, would tell us to buck up. God’s grace shines brightest in such times. A child of God senses the Father’s presence most profoundly in adversity. I can see it in the posts of Christian friends. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen more scripture quoted or more biblical allusions among my FB friends than I have in recent weeks, and that is a good thing. I can see it in our church family—the cultural foreboding and the absence of fellowship caused by the virus lockdowns has made us all appreciate one another so much more as we devise new ways to love and serve one another. I’m so glad I’m a part of the family of God in these sanctifying trials.

We struggle with political defeat as starkly contradictory anti-Christian executive orders issue forth from a new president who touts his piety, but God did not put us here to fight political wars. Our chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever, wherever He sovereignly places us, and that cannot happen in hard times by human striving. You must be wrought upon by the Holy Spirit to exude joy in the Lord in the midst of trials. There is no better witness. There’s laid up for you a “…treasure in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew 6:20-21).

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4).

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18).

See you in church.

INAUGURATION DAY 2020

January 20, 2021

Dear friends, if this is a hard day for you, remember this. If this is a good day, remember this: 

God is sovereign.  He has foreordained whatsoever comes to pass. He rules in all things.

“Our God is in the heavens; He does all that He pleases” (Psalm 115:3).

…He does according to His will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay His hand or say to Him, “What have you done?” (Daniel 4:35)

“In Him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will” (Ephesians 1:11).

“Behold, I am coming soon” (Revelation 22:7, 12).

Our God reigns.

THIS IS NOT A DRILL

January 19, 2021

The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation, by Rod Dreher.

Christian, if you didn’t read this book in 2017 when it was atop the bestseller list, now would be a good time. Its timeliness is self-evident from the title. I found it helpful to reread it (a rare thing for me, aside from the Bible) this past week:

Dreher declares “the culture war that began with the sexual revolution in the 1960s has now [post-Obergefell] ended in defeat for Christian conservatives. The cultural left—which is to say, increasingly the American mainstream—has no intension of living in post-war peace… It is pressing forward with a harsh, relentless occupation, one that is aided by the cluelessness of Christians who don’t understand what’s happening. Don’t be fooled: the upset presidential victory of Donald Trump has at best given us a bit more time to prepare for the inevitable.”

Events in three short years have proven him profoundly prophetic—what we have seen is the opposite of “post-war peace.” That “bit more time to prepare” ends tomorrow. “This is not a drill.”

Dreher begins with a critique of modern culture and an ominous prediction for its future, and follows with “stories of conservative Christians who are pioneering creative ways to live out the faith joyfully and counterculturally in these darkening days.” It is a smorgasbord of food for thought and helpful actionable ideas at a time when it is desperately needed. Highly recommend!

“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25).

CODGER DREAMS ON A WINTER WEEKEND

January 17, 2021

Facebook can be cruel in other ways than just censorship. While we were hunkered down in an indoor vegetative state on this cold, snowy winter weekend, they tried to entice me into a pity party with this suggested flashback of one of my favorite toys. It inflamed my retirement ennui at a vulnerable moment—mid-January in Ohio—but only briefly. If we still had this plane—a Piper Turbo Arrow—we could have escaped this weekend to Siesta Key, FL, (our home in the ‘80’s), for pizza at Mr. Gatti’s and ice cream at Big Olaf’s Friday night, spent Saturday soaking the cold out of our bones on the world’s best beach and been back in Ohio for worship Sunday evening, knowing the whole time that no matter how long we lingered we could not miss our flight home.  Sigh… Alas, an impossible dream at this age­—I’m not super-confident in two dimensions, and three would be foolhardy. 

The hallmark of codger daydreams is nostalgic memories. This pic evokes many, with son in the co-pilot seat, not yet tall enough to see over the instrument panel, and wife and infant daughter, the most relaxed flyer in the family, in the back: Bahamas, Florida’s Gulf Coast and California’s Big Sur at 1000’ MSL just offshore—breathtaking Divine artistry.  They and many more float through my housebound reverie.  It’s the Holy Spirit’s way of reminding me of the amazing grace He has showered on my life. I knew it then, I know it now, and the best by far is yet to come. A Midwestern winter may be grim, but beloved family in the neighborhood (that infant daughter and her family) is an overwhelming compensation—the reason we’re here. I am grateful!  What God has foreordained I would not deign to change.

“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever” (Psalm 23:6).

See you in church.


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