Ken's Blog

ken@pastorken.com

Saturday, December 22, 2007

RECEIVING THE GIFT


The giving of gifts whether we like it or not are an integral part of the Christmas Holidays. I think children know more about this than adults. We need to think back and try to remember Christmas when we were young enough to enjoy it.

It's curious that in almost 60 years of being a minister I can't remember anyone but children coming to me and saying "I want to give a special Christmas gift to Jesus." For all too many people Jesus is not on their gift list.

Yet his gift to us was the greatest gift the world could have possibly received. For most people the day after Christmas is a crowded mess - taking back all the unwanted things we received. The mad scramble by retailers to sell us everything imaginable has now been replaced with trying to take back the unwanted stuff.

The first bible verse most children learn describes God's greatest gift to us. It's (John 3:16 NIV) "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."

John explains this magnificent gift in John 1:9: "The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.

Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God - children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will but born of God. The word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth."

We desperately needed this great gift of God's son. When Christ came to earth as God's greatest gift it was a sad unhappy world much like today. There was grinding poverty for most people and only the patricians, kings and nobility had money for luxuries. No one had the answer for the horrible problems that plagued mankind".

Men were ruled by force; there were no inherent rights of man; the bill of rights had not been created yet and men lived or died by the up or down position of an emperor's thumb. There were no court of appeals or justice.

There was little concern about justice, people were chattel, bought and sold; hospitals were for the rich, and there were no old folks homes. To make matters totally repulsive - all too often church was a haven for oppressive, self-righteous, religious rogues.

A GIFT MUST BE RECEIVED FROM THE GIVER

In Matthew 2:11 the Magi brought gifts to Jesus. Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh. Consider the three stages in this story - Vision, Submission, and Expensive Consecration.

To accept the gift you must accept the giver. Clearly we must make a commitment to heed the teaching of Jesus. Millions will tell us that decision changed their lives.

Obviously during the birth, earthly ministry and death of Jesus Christ there were many people who fell into three categories.

There were those who heard the evidence, saw it with their own eyes and believed. Their belief was in the form of a definite commitment to become his follower, and knowing the opposition by the religious leaders, they were accepting the risk of persecution and death. They accepted the hard commands of his teachings.

There were others who decided to stand aside, to take no position at all. They were the onlookers and the bystanders who were interested, thought his unorthodox teaching and preaching was interesting, even perhaps true, but decided to do nothing.

The innkeeper was one of these. His life was full and busy..and so he missed the gift because he didn't know God was knocking on his door. All he saw was a pregnant mother and a man with a donkey. "Oh, Lord," he probably thought. "Another problem. Go away, I don't have any room for you."

Then there were those who because of what he taught rejected him. It was in direct conflict with what they wanted to do, or were doing, so they decided to become his enemy. They were the active unbelievers who put him to death.

They cloaked their monstrous sin with the respectability of the letter of the law while all the time tearing the spirit of the law to bits. They didn't crucify him, the others did. They only sat by and watched him die. But they were glad in their heart that he was gone. He had made them feel uncomfortable and disturbed their pleasant life.

So they missed the greatest gift on earth and didn't receive it.

Years ago as the moving truck was ready to leave Marion Indiana and bring our furniture to Atlanta, a wonderful friend walked up and returned a book to me. He had been a friend for four years and has remained a great friend for over 45 years.

He said: "I'm returning the book you loaned to me and frankly I didn't get much out of it. However, you may get something out of page 58." When he left I put the book in a box and we drove to Atlanta.

A few weeks later I was sweating over money, wondering how in the world we would buy groceries, where I could find some work and I thought about Harold.

I remembered his parting words to me. Out of curiosity I looked for the books and finally found it. I turned to page 58 and found a check for $500.00. To say that I was overjoyed is to put it mildly. It was the answer to my prayers. I was blessed because I finally received the gift.

To accept the gift of God you must accept the giver, and you must make a commitment to heed the teaching of the Savior. Wouldn't it be a great time to do that when we celebrate his birth?

THE MESSAGE OF CHRISTMAS

A minister was struggling to prepare a Christmas sermon and was interrupted by a crisis at the church home for emotionally disturbed children. Most of the children had gone home for an overnight visit and the few left reacted poorly to the empty beds and changed routines.

Tommy was upstairs under a bed and refused to come out. First the minister tried talking to the cowboys on the bedspread. No response. Then fretting at the time this was costing, he dropped to his knees and lifted the bedspread. Tommy's big 8-year-old eyes looked sadly moist.

It would have been easy to pull him out from under the bed, but what Tommy needed was a reason that made sense to his lonely 8 year old heart. So the minister got down on the floor and wiggled in beside Tommy, talked for a few minutes and then laid his head on the floor in silence.

As he waited a small cold hand reached over and took his hand. After a bit the minister said: "Tommy, let's you and me go out where we can stand up..." And so they did, but slowly and in no hurry...because the preacher had his Christmas sermon.

God called us from far above...with stars, mountains, creation and his spirit. He drew closer through the prophets and lawgivers...but finally nothing would do but direct contact with us in our desperate need.

Jesus came to live among us to share our sorrow and lead us to a direct contact with God that would give us eternal life. That means that we will live forever int he Magnificent place Jesus went to prepare for us.

Now it's your turn. You must decide whether to accept the gift and the giver or reject both of them. Choose carefully. The clock is ticking and the offer is limited to this life only.


Wednesday, December 19, 2007

CHRISTMAS MUSIC

You might know this as "Chestnuts roasting on an open fire," which is the song's first line, not its title. And you might already know that it isn't as old as some other popular Christmas songs. It was written in 1944 by two men in show business.

Mel Torme was a famous singer, songwriter, and performer. His friend, Robert Wells, wrote songs' lyrics, or words. One summer day in California, the two men got together because they'd been hired to produce songs for two new movies.

But the day was sweltering hot, and when Torme arrived at Wells's house, he found Wells trying to cool off by thinking of winter scenes. Torme saw that his friend had written down some of these icy thoughts: "Chestnuts roasting...," "Jack Frost nipping...," "Yuletide carols...," and "Folks dressed up like Eskimos...." Torme was inspired.

Instead of working on their assignment, the two men put their heads together and made Wells's words into a song.

Forty minutes later, the music and lyrics were finished! The title of the song was simply..."The Christmas Song." They hurried to see another friend, the famous singer Nat King Cole.

When they showed him their song, Cole wanted to record it. He did, and when it was released in 1946, "The Christmas Song" climbed to the top of the music charts. The song reached the Top 10 four more times during the next eight years. And it was eventually recorded by more than 100 other singers, including Mel Torme himself.

'Jingle Bells' From the time he was little, James Pierpont had been a talented musician. He lived in Medford, Mass., and his father was pastor at the Unitarian Church there. One day in 1840, Pierpont's dad asked him to write some special music for the church's Thanksgiving Day service.

While Pierpont thought about it, he was distracted by young people outside. They were having sled races in the snow. So he stepped out to watch. And the experience made him remember when he used to sleigh with friends.

Soon he had a tune in his head. He walked to a neighbor's house and told her about his melody. She had the only piano in town, so she let Pierpont get to work. When he finished his little jingle, he strolled home to put words to his music.

You probably know how the song turned out. With outdoor winter fun on his mind, he wrote about dashing through the snow in a sleigh drawn by horses.

After the choir performed Pierpont's song on Thanksgiving, churchgoers begged for more. So the choir sang it again at Christmas. The tune was so catchy that visitors to the church took it home with them and passed it to friends and family.

Eventually Pierpont moved to Savannah, Ga. It was there in 1857, that he finally published his song officially. Soon, it caught on around the country. But Pierpont probably never guessed people would still be singing it more than 160 years later!

'Joy to the World' This carol wasn't the work of just one person. One man wrote the words, and another composed the popular tune – nearly 100 years apart! In 1674, Isaac Watts was born in Southampton, England. When he grew up, he complained to his father about how boring he thought church music was. He wished it were more lively and inspiring. So Watts's dad asked him why he didn't write something better. And that's just what Watts did. Eventually, he composed more than 600 hymns and hundreds of other poems.

One of these works was "Joy to the World," based on words from Psalm 98 in the Bible. During Watts's time, though, the poem was sung to the tune of another well-known hymn. Here's where the next character in the story comes in. Lowell Mason was born in 1792 in Medfield, Mass. (not far from Medford, Mass., where James Pierpont would later be born). Many people thought he had musical talent. But he moved to Savannah, Ga. (just as Pierpont would) and worked as a banker.

Still, he spent time on his music and sent a book of songs he composed to several publishers in the Northeast. But the publishers rejected it. Finally, several years later, a musical society in Boston agreed to print his songs.

Later, Mason moved to Boston, where he became musical director for some local churches. Like Watts, he wrote hundreds of new hymns. In 1836, Mason wrote a tune inspired by parts of a famous musical piece, "Messiah," by George Frideric Handel. Three years later, he paired his new tune with Isaac Watts's poem, "Joy to the World," and a popular new hymn was born.

It was a long journey from George Frederic Handel's massive, scripture filled Grand Opera called "the messiah" with it's "hallellujah Chorus" to Isaac Watt's simple "Joy to the world". Inspiration has a way of moving from one person to another.

I suppose it's a good thing that we all don't see alike, or think in the same way about spiritual things. We will go on liking what we like, and painfully allow others to do the same thing. I wonder how God will sort is all out in Heaven?

Sunday, December 16, 2007

MONEY THE ROOT OF ALL....


Well, there's several ways to finish this quote.... The Bible tells us that money is the root of all evil...? No, it really tells us that: "(1 Tim 6:10 KJV) "For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows."

Most people will quickly say that they don't love money. They want plenty of it so they can buy what really makes them happy. (Often the happiness is short lived...)

Christmas is a time when most people would like to have a lot of money. Then we could buy a lot of happiness for those we love, and also have what we want. This time of year Charles Dickens Christmas Carol is played a lot on TV. It shows the evil of loving money and the joy of giving it away.

Charles Dickens wrote: "I have endeavoured in this Ghostly little book, to raise the Ghost of an Idea, which shall not put my readers out of humour with themselves, with each other, with the season, or with me. May it haunt their houses pleasantly, and no one wish to lay it.
Their faithful Friend and Servant,C. D. December, 1843.
(He was 31 years old at the time.)

If “the love of money can be the root of all evil,” it’s also true that money given by those who love God and put him first, can be the seed of every kind of good. It’s true value according to Jesus is infinite because it keeps on multiplying itself.

Looking back over our ministry we have been blessed to be the leaders of some very large projects. We’ve preached and sang to thousands at a time. On other occasions we ministered to small groups of just a few dozen. We've put together a medical team and treated the poor in the Amazon Jungle until we ran out of medicine. ($40,000.00 worth) Yet, all through our ministry we have taken the time to lead a single individual to Jesus.

We understood many years ago that this is the exact method and kind of ministry our Lord had. He was just as much at home with the 5,000 as he was with a single woman of poor character at Jacobs well. Everything is important to God.

Soon Maggie and I will have been married and working for the Lord together for 58 years. We decided in the beginning of our ministry that we would never ask for money, but just take what God provided for us. It's been a wonderful way to live. We have given away several hundred thousand dollars, and still give away what God places in our hands. The bank of heaven has never been robbed and so our future is secure.

In everything we’ve done there have been many thousands of unsung, and unknown hero’s of the faith who have provided the money for us to do what God called us to do. God is keeping a record, and he will never forget their faithful contributions. On the last and final day, when God rewards those who were obedient we will all stand together, we will hear his— “well done, you good and faithful servants enter into the joys of the Lord.”

My daughter Debbie Jansen and our Son-in-law Ron has followed in our footsteps and are kind and generous people. They have passed that wonderful quality to our grandchildren. Amie, Jamie and Kenny are kind and generous people. We are of course good to one another and that's a blessing.

The kindness shows up outside our family. For years they have had a family tradition of going to areas where the Salvation Army volunteers are ringing their bells and collecting money for the poor. The whole family buys hamburgers, hot coffee and takes it to the grateful volunteers. This is just one of the many caring projects they enjoy doing.

Wow! That's what I would call random acts of kindness. Everyone gets to feel good.



Saturday, December 15, 2007

GOD AND THE ASTRONOUTS

I was pastoring a church in Marion Indiana in May 25, 1961 when John F. Kennedy announced the United States should put a man on the Moon in 10 years. Many of my friends, family and church members believed God wouldn't allow such a thing to happen. I told them God was much more concerned with the morals of America than he was with man walking around on a lifeless, dead rock like the moon. I still believe that is our major concern.

Early one morning several years ago I got a phone call from a Pastor friend. He wanted us to come to his church, play the piano and help with the music. We got there just as the service was starting. After the music, Pastor Will Fisher introduced the speaker for the morning service.


He was Air Force Brigadier General Robert Stewart. While at NASA, he flew two space shuttle flights. On STS-41B along with Bruce McCandless he conducted the first orbital flight tests of the Manned Maneuvering Unit (MMU), the first untethered extra-vehicular activity from a spacecraft in flight. He said: "It's an incredible experience being all alone, 1,000,000 feet above the earth, traveling at nearly 17,500 mph".


Traveling all over the world, being a Missionary Pilot, doing Medical projects in the Amazon Jungle, and preaching in some of the largest churches on earth I've met many famous and wealthy people. I soon learned that they were just ordinary people who did incredible things. When I talked to General Bob Stewart after the service he asked me to come to his parents home and talk with him.

I was impressed by all the life-sized photos of him, Presidential citations, and many other awards that covered the walls of his parents home. His distinguished accomplishments and academic education and experience as a test pilot was obvious and amazing.

Of course I wanted to know all about his incredible space travel. We talked a little about that but what he really wanted to talk about for well over two hours was his "spiritual experiences" and what God wanted him to do with the rest of his life."

Many of Astronauts have had deep, personal, spiritual experiences after walking on the moon or flying in outer space. Some of the most intelligent and best educated people in the world know they need more than "success." They recognize the amazing intelligence and creative genius of God who created the heavens and the earth.

I was asked one day by a multimillionaire if he could have an encounter with God without all of the ceremonies and rituals of a church service. I assured him that it was something between him and the Lord. "You can pray and talk to God anywhere, just like you are talking to me, I told him. Just make sure it's sincere". He didn't make any reply and I felt I shouldn't say anymore. (That's extraordinary for a preacher...) I knew I had said enough. I'm sure he found the Lord.

This is not a put down for having "church." I've also seen many people have a wonderful spiritual transformation in church during revival meetings, or just in an ordinary church service. You don't have to be an astronaut to get God's attention.

Any time or anywhere we pray sincerely, God listens!

Sunday, December 9, 2007

LOVE IS NOT A BARGAIN


Sometimes a situation may be unavoidably unfair for one spouse at the moment and months or even years later the situation may be reversed. Even if it never changes love signs on for the whole trip whether it’s good or bad. Often I hear people say that a marriage is a “fifty-fifty” deal. With all of the score keeping, and arguments about what’s fair and not fair, this turns a loving relationship into a constant battle.

“Quid pro quo,” is Latin for “something for something.” It’s a kind of business relationship. You give me merchandise and I’ll give you money. Everyone loves a bargain and constantly try to get the best of the deal. All of business and most of life between people is based on this principle. However, love is not a “quid pro quo” search for a bargain.

I was blessed years ago to watch my aunt and uncle live out a different kind of relationship. My Aunt Alyeene was a wonderful sophisticated lady who had a laugh like liquid sunshine. Her personality reminded me of a sparkling brook singing and splashing its way down the mountain. She was the very soul of warmth, love and kindness.

My Uncle was totally different. He came up hard, struggling and working for everything he ever had. He was a salesman, and had little success and one morning they got up and divided a single egg for breakfast. They prayed, as usual, for God to change things for them. Shortly after that harsh experience he got a wonderful opportunity that made them very well off financially. He had a kind and generous heart, but growing up in an orphanage left him painfully insensitive to the struggles of other people.

They didn’t have any children. Aunt Alyeene and the Bankers wife went down to the poorest section of town where they lived. They rented an old building, cleaned and fixed it up, and had something very much like a joyous picnic with the poor kids. They washed them, gave them decent clothes, fed them, and mixed in with all of the fun had a little unstructured conversation about Jesus and the Christian Faith. Many of those kids heard their first prayer while being lovingly held on the lap of these two beautiful ladies.

They never talked about it, but I later learned that they had sent several of those kids through college. No, their name wasn’t on a plaque anywhere, and they were never given any kind of special recognition. They just quietly practiced the Christian faith knowing that Jesus knew what they were doing.


They would take Debbie our small daughter to the park, or to the store and buy her something special. Uncle Love teased my daughter Debbie by calling her “snigger fritz.” They both gave her plenty of very special love and affection. Often they would take us out to eat, but our favorite place was where they served delicious sweet watermelon by the slice. We sat outdoors at a wooden picnic table overlooking the river. We would all laugh, tell funny stories, and whatever troubles we had would simply disappear for a while.


My uncle didn’t have a first name, just the initials AB. His last name was Love. He was a hard working, very successful investment broker, and later added real estate sales to his office. Uncle Love was a devout Christian, honest and sincere and at times showed great kindness and love. He was often full of fun and laughter. At other times he could be very passionate about what he believed or thought, and sometimes I felt like he was a little too harsh, inconsiderate and stern.


My aunt explained that he really didn’t mean to be unkind. It was just hard to get away from the toughness he developed as a child in an orphanage trying to survive and protect his little brother. Sometimes Aunt Alyeene would tell him that He was wrong. She did it with such kindness and love that almost always he would agree with her. He would often try to explain his motives for something he had said or done and wind up with tears in his eyes saying, “I’m sorry.”


I loved them both but sometimes I felt that their relationship was unfair because my aunt had to give in so often. I marveled at her ability to do it with such grace and kindness. Growing up in South Carolina she had all of the charm and grace of a true southern lady.


She loved him and seemed genuinely happy trying to please him and refused to complain about the unfairness. She simply accepted it as one of those things that couldn’t be changed. So we also forgot about it and their home was a warm and pleasant place to visit. Later when we moved to Atlanta they would often come to see us. We would sit up until late at night having a snack with the left over supper. It was usually something entirely southern like buttermilk and warm cornbread, pinto beans or whatever was available. We forgot about time while we laughed, told stories, and again our troubles did their disappearing act.

Then one day a small stroke like a thief took away some of her memory and then more and more as time went on. They came to see us again and we knew that something was very different. We took her to the best specialist in Atlanta, but after exhaustive test they gave us the gloomy news that nothing could be done. The problem would just get worse as time went on. The doctors told us that she must have been having little “mini stokes” in her brain. This was before the discovery of Alzheimer’s disease.


For month’s uncle Love took care of her at home. Incident after incident warned him that she couldn’t stay by herself while he worked. One day the highway patrol called him and said they had picked her up, walking down the middle of a four-lane highway. She had a shopping bag, a few clothes in it, and said she was going from Decatur Alabama, to her home in South Carolina.

Uncle Love knew it was no longer possible to take care of her and he tearfully placed her in a nursing home. For over five years she was unable to give or contribute anything but sorrow and disappointment to him.

No, it wasn’t fair that he slept on the floor of her room until they could get him a small folding cot. He was well into his 80’s but he refused to leave her alone even for a day. No, it wasn’t fair that he felt he had to get someone to come stay with her while he made a quick trip to the barber and took care of some business.


There was nothing fair about the days that rolled into months and years as he sat by her bedside and fed her. Every day he read the bible and other literature to a silent, sad and unresponsive woman. She didn’t look pretty anymore with her hair cut off and her total unconcern for her appearance. But, it didn’t seem to matter as he loved her by cheerfully holding her hand, laughed and kissed her.


It wasn’t fairness that kept him by her bedside every day for over five years. It was love. When she died he seemed strangely comforted by the fact that he had never forsaken her or stopped loving her. Just one month after we buried her we had the sad experience of coming back to attend his funeral.


Remembering them is like panning for gold. I don’t think much about what was fair or unfair. I wash those memories around and around and in the pan and I can see mixed in with the rough brown sand bright flashes of sunshine on the pure gold of unselfish love.


A bargain of mutual self-interest would have never survived the trials of their life together. But their love for each other was strong enough to suffer long “with kindness”. They both had it and life gave each of them a special time to use it.

(Ist Cor 13:4) “Love suffers long and is kind.”

Thursday, December 6, 2007

I'VE NEVER BEEN AFRAID

Looking at this old picture taken in 1961 I remember some very rough traveling. I flew out of Manila in the Phillipines about sundown. My destination was Jakarta Indonesia. This long boring flight was made bareable by being invited into the cockpit to ride with the flight crew. We dodged thunder storms, and finally about midnight arrived in Jakarta.

The missionary I was going to visit didn't get my cable, and I found that all the hotel rooms were taken in the city by politicians. So, I found a small empty room with no ceiling, put my foot against the door, with my hand on my luggage and went to sleep.

I woke up about five o'clock in the morning, finally found someone who spoke English, and decided to take a bus ride 180 kilometers to Bandung. The English speaking man in the airport told a taxi driver to take me to the bus stop and we drove for several miles in the pitch dark through the back streets of Jakarta. I couldn't speak a word of their language as he found the bus stop and told the bus driver where I wanted to go. I got on the bus and rode up and down moutains at a snails pace until about 3:30 that afternoon I got off of the bus in Bandung and made this picture.

I hired a horse drawn cart and showed the driver the address of the Missionary. After a hour of wondering about - back and forth across town I was tired, out of sorts, and frustrated. I was talking too loud to the poor driver who was obviously lost and a man came out of a house and asked me in perfect English if I need some help.

To my great relief he told the driver exactly where I need to go. I got out of the cart in front of my Missionary friends house...went inside and let his 18 year old son go out and haggle with the driver about his fee.

Thinking back over this and many other dangerous events in my life I know I was often in constant danger. Yet I was never afraid. Why not?

There’s no ice water in my veins and I have a healthy respect for danger­ous situations. In traveling all over the world I’ve hung on for dear life to a log chain thrown around the middle of an elephant as its driver plunged us through a rainy jungle in Burma. Flying small air­planes across Mexico and Central America was hairy at times. But the nameless and faceless dread; the numbing anxiety and the fear of danger lurking every­where has not been a problem for me.

I know it has something to do with my early experiences with prayer. As a young boy I was full of mischief and a lot of people were giv­ing odds that I wouldn’t make it to my next birthday. My love of excitement and the willingness to try new things had already caused me a fair amount of trouble. My parents were con­stantly warning me about possible dangers.

My mother had her hands full with three boys and a girl. We had all of the usual trauma of cuts, dislocated arms, severe abrasions from bicycle wrecks and even a near drowning. But my mother had a firm, unshakable be­lief in prayer and several times I was a first hand participant in those prayers.

Like the time I went skating with my cousin Rex. We lived in a very small southern town and every day was a challenge for nine-year-old boys to find some­thing to do. Some of our solutions to that problem sounded pretty dangerous to my parents. They didn’t approve of climbing the tree beside the house and jumping on to the roof or going to the river to swim.

My mother had told us not to leave the house that day but the in­sects were playing their mad July song, the sun was hot and we needed something to do. When she took a nap, like convicts breaking out of prison, we care­fully slipped out of the yard to skate down the long streets be­tween our house and the school. We knew she wouldn’t allow us to do that but we promised each other to look out for cars. Anyway, we planned to be back be­fore she missed us.

There wasn’t a breeze anywhere as we grabbed our skates and ran down the street. When we were sure we were far enough away so mother couldn’t hear us we strapped on our skates. The streets were lined with huge oak trees that made a cool green canopy over the road during the long hot summer days. We felt pure pleasure as we skated along in the cool shade.

Going down those long winding streets was tremendously excit­ing because one hill in particular was so steep you built up quite a bit of speed on the way to the bottom. We laughed and teased one another as we skated our way to the steep hill. Then we took a deep breath and started down.

Just as we reached the bottom of the hill my cousin was on one side of the street and I was on the other. Our skates were making so much noise we didn’t hear the car coming up behind us. The woman who was driving said later she didn’t see us until she rounded the curve and then it was too late to stop.

She was standing on the brakes and trying to steer between us when suddenly I decided to turn around. She watched in horror as I turned in front of the right fender of her car - felt the bump as she hit me and saw me go down under the front of the car. Then she felt the wheel lift up as it went over me.

When the car stopped all I could hear was her screaming. She was sure she had killed me. Even today after 66 years the events are indelibly imprinted in my mind. It was like a slow motion movie. I felt the impact of the car, felt myself going down, and felt the car wheel roll over my legs. It was a strange sensation be­cause I felt no pain. Then I re­member vividly my skates getting caught in the undercarriage of the car just behind the right front wheel. I remember thinking about the possibility of the rear wheel running over me but instead I was dragged along until the car stopped.

I un­tangled my skates when the car stopped and crawled out. Then someone carried me to the doctor’s office just a few blocks away. It would be dramatic if I could talk about how scared I was but that wouldn’t be true. I knew I was going to be fine. In a short time the doctor dismissed me. He said I had some bruises but no seri­ous injuries. In less than an hour I was walking around the back yard at home.

A little later the woman who had hit me had regained her compo­sure and came to talk to my mother. I was asked to come inside so she could be sure I was all right. In express­ing her concern and amazed relief that I was all right she said: “You son is one lucky little boy.”

“No honey,” my mother said, “It wasn’t luck. I woke up shortly after they left and felt a sudden urge to pray for them. At the precise time of the ac­cident I was urgently pray­ing for God to pro­tect them both.” My mother laughed with happiness. “It was the angel of the Lord that saved him.”

“Yes,” the woman said, “I can certainly agree with that.”

The only physical problems I suf­fered were in the back of my ankles. The tendons in my heels were ex­tremely sensitive for years after that experience. Just a bump against the legs of a chair was enough to remind me of my sin of disobedience and also of God’s ten­der care and mercy. I had no problems walking or running and eventually I recovered completely from those minor prob­lems.

Because my mother has such a firm belief that God was always available to protect and help us, I’ve been spared a lifetime of needless anxiety. Truthfully, in a dangerous situation I was usually so busy trying to work it out, that it just never occurred to me that I might not make it. I also had a firm, rock solid knowledge that God had called me, and my life was in his hands.

Many of my own prayers have been answered in a spectacular way and that has also shaped my thinking. I must confess that often my prayers are not answered and I learned to accept the fact that God knew something I didn’t and there was no reason to worry about it. I’ve lived my whole life with a calm assur­ance that every­thing would come out all right in the end.

Just recently some­one asked me why I’ve been so adventurous and un­afraid. I had never really thought about it before but then it suddenly seemed very clear to me. It’s an unshakable knowledge given to me by my mother’s prayers that God is al­ways available when we need him. And no matter what happens, nothing can separate me from his goodness and love.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Thank you for your generous donations

I love helping people. I earned a Master's degree in Psychology and a Doctorate in Theology. I've been an ordained Christian Minister for over 60 years. I've read thousands of books and at one time was an editor for the Haggai Institute.

As the Founder and Director of Christian Ministries I've often recommended books I knew would be helpful to people in counseling. I'm looking for a way to supplement our miniscule social security check.

If you want to help support this website and help us continue our diverse and wide ranging ministry, you can use the link in the sidebar to make all your purchases from Amazon.com. The small sellers fee I receive will be greatly appreciated.

Here are a few of my favorite books:



I like this book because according to the Wall Street Journal, "this book has once and for all demolished Darwin's Theory of Evolution".




Compassion and Self Hate is one of my all time favorite books. Dr. Rubin's book is excellent because it clearly shows the way to a healthy normal life. He reveals his own personal struggles and how he overcame them.

C. S. Lewis wrote many excellent books but my favorite is God in the dock. Especially the chapter called, Have we no right to happiness? That chapter alone makes the book worthwhile.



I hope these three books will get you started. If you have a reader on your Christmas list and would like to know what type of book to get for under the tree, send me an e-mail.

For me, reading is the only hobby I truly enjoy.

CHRISTMAS LOVE AND COMPASSION

The Christmas story in the Bible is all about love, compassion, selfishness and hatred. Long ago I came to realize that "compassion" is the key to heaven. The 25th Chapter of Matthew records the words of Jesus in which he made it absolutely clear that "compassion or indifference" will take us to heaven or hell. Jesus also gave us the same message in Luke 16:20-31.

Here's a story I've had for years. It touches me every time I read it. I'll let you decide if it touches your heart and moves you to acts of kindness.

As she stood in front of her 5th grade class on the very first day of school, she told the children an untruth. Like most teachers, she looked at her students and said that she loved them all the same. However, that was impossible, because there in the front row, slumped in his seat, was a little boy named Teddy Stoddard.

Mrs. Thompson had watched Teddy the year before and noticed that he did not play well with the other children, that his clothes were messy and that he constantly needed a bath. In addition, Teddy could be unpleasant. It got to the point where Mrs. Thompson would actually take delight in marking his papers with a broad red pen, making bold X’s and then putting a big “F” at the top of his papers.

At the school where Mrs. Thompson taught, she was required to review each child’s past records and she put Teddy’s off until last. However, when she reviewed his file, she was in for a surprise.


Teddy’s first grade teacher wrote, “Teddy is a bright child with a ready laugh. He does his work neatly and has good manners. He is a joy to be around.”

His second grade teacher wrote, “Teddy is an excellent student, well liked by his classmates, but he is troubled because his mother has a terminal illness and life at home must be a struggle.”

His third grade teacher wrote, “His mother’s death has been hard on him. He tries to do his best, but his father doesn’t show much interest, and his home life will soon affect him if some steps aren’t taken”

Teddy’s fourth grade teacher wrote, “Teddy is with drawn and doesn’t show much interest in school. He doesn’t have many friends and he sometimes sleeps in class.”

By now, Mrs. Thompson realized the problem and she was ashamed of herself. She felt even worse when her students brought her Christmas presents, wrapped in beautiful ribbons and bright paper, except for Teddy’s. His present was clumsily wrapped in the heavy, brown paper that he got from a grocery bag. Mrs. Thompson took pains to open it in the middle of the other presents. Some of the children started to laugh when she found a rhinestone bracelet with some of the stones missing, and a bottle that was one-quarter full of perfume.

But she stifled the children’s laughter when she exclaimed how pretty the bracelet was, putting it on, and dabbing some of the perfume on her wrist.

Teddy Stoddard stayed after school that day just long enough to say, “Mrs. Thompson, today you smelled just like my Mom used to.”


After the children left, she cried for at least an hour. On that very day, she quit teaching reading, writing and arithmetic. Instead, she began to teach children. Mrs. Thompson paid particular attention to Teddy.


As she worked with him, his mind seemed to come alive. The more she encouraged him, the faster he responded. By the end of the year, Teddy had become one of the smartest children in the class and, despite her lie that she would love all the children the same, Teddy became one of her “teacher’s pets.”

A year later, she found a note under her door, from Teddy, telling her that she was the best teacher he ever had in his whole life.

Six years went by before she got another note from Teddy. He then wrote that he had finished high school, third in his class, and she was still the best teacher he ever had in his life.

Four years after that, she got another letter, saying that while things had been tough at times, he’d stayed in school, had stuck with it, and would soon graduate from college with the highest of honors. He assured Mrs. Thompson that she was still the best and favorite teacher he had ever had in his whole life.

Then four more years passed and yet another letter came. This time he explained that after he got his bachelor’s degree, he decided to go a little further. The letter explained that she was still the best and favorite teacher he ever had. But now his name was a little longer The letter was signed, Theodore F. Stoddard, MD.

The story does not end there. You see, there was yet another letter that spring. Teddy said he had met this girl and was going to be married. He explained that his father had died a couple of years ago and he was wondering if Mrs. Thompson might agree to sit at the wedding in the place that was usually reserved for the mother of the groom.

Of course, Mrs. Thompson did. And guess what? She wore that bracelet, the one with several rhinestones missing. Moreover, she made sure she was wearing the perfume that Teddy remembered his mother wearing on their last Christmas together.

They hugged each other, and Dr. Stoddard whispered in Mrs. Thompson’s ear, “Thank you Mrs. Thompson for believing in me. Thank you so much for making me feel important and showing me that I could make a difference."

Mrs. Thompson, with tears in her eyes, whispered back. She said, “Teddy, you have it all wrong. You were the one who taught me that I could make a difference. I didn’t know how to teach until I met you.”


This warm and tender story is a work of fiction. The original story, which first appeared in significantly different form in the magazine Home Life in 1976, was written by Elizabeth Silance Ballard (now Elizabeth Ungar) and called "Three Letters from Teddy." The main character's name was Teddy Stallard, not Teddy Stoddard.

The powerful truth is that the only Stoddard connected with Iowa Methodist Hospital in Des Moines was John D. Staddard, an engineer, and real estate developer who amassed a fortune. No member of his family had ever had cancer. He often said that the reason he worked so hard to make money was to have more to give away.

In 1990, his keen interest in medical care and compassion for others compelled him to support Iowa Methodist Medical Center’s new cancer center with a $4 million gift. In recognition of his generosity, the center was named the John Stoddard Cancer Center.

He gained a sense of satisfaction that came from supporting a facility specifically designed to offer feelings of life, health and hope. John was always a fervent ambassador for the center, spreading his enthusiasm for the new and emerging technology, expert cancer researchers and care givers, and personalized family-centered care.

John said, "Once you see the center, once you see the remarkable work that’s being done, that’s what really motivates you to give. There’s such an attitude of hope." Through his ongoing gifts to the center, as well as significant provisions made in his estate plan, John Stoddard’s spirit of hope will continue to benefit cancer patients and their families for generations to come.

John Stoddard died in 1998 after a brief struggle with cancer.

Tomorrow? Just “do it”. Random acts of kindness, I think they call it! “Believe in Angels, miracles, mercy and then return the favor.”

Sunday, December 2, 2007

CHRISTIANITY / RELIGION

Many years ago I preached my way around the world and visited this great image of Buddha in Kamakura Japan. It was the beginning of a trip that allowed me to see many of the worlds religions up close and personal. To talk about this subject we need a common definition of both religion and Christianity.

Religion involves having a belief in a divinely created world, faith in a creed - a formal statement of religious belief, obedience to a moral code set down in sacred scriptures and participation in community religious life.

I soon discovered that a large number of Japanese didn't have a religion that fit my definition. Shinto has no system of doctrine, no creed, and no formulated religious ideas. It is fundamentally concerned with expressing wonder, respect, and awe for everything that exists. This concern involves treating everything as if it were a person. In other words, having an independent life of its own. This must never be taken for granted. In a walk up a mountain trail I saw this Shinto shrine.

I was curious about the white paper strips tied to the branches of this tree. I discovered that they were prayers placed there by people who believe that the wind would blow them away and somehow....their prayers might be answered.


Shinto as practiced in Japan is not a religion. The Japanese word shin is spirit only in the most vague meaning. In the view of Shinto, every rock, tree, animal, and stream has its own shin or kami. (God or Goddess) The kami [divine] + kaze [wind] came from the legendary name of a typhoon that in 1281 saved Japan by destroying the invasion of the Mongol navy. Kamikaze “divine wind” was bad for Japan’s enemies. So, during the Second World War it became the name of young Japanese suicide pilots who crashed their bomb loaded planes into U.S. Navy ships.

Before I made this trip I studied every major religion in the world, and many of the thousands of variations of the Christian faith in America. I wanted to know the truth and was willing to accept it wherever I found it. On this trip I saw Buddhist priest spinning prayer wheels that were keep spinning night and day for years. I also saw many people apparently praying in the world's largest and most famous Buddhist temple in the world - the Shwee DaGong in Rangoon Burma.


The great question was: "Who were they praying to?" No, it couldn't be Siddhartha Gautama, the first Buddha who reached Nirvana after 533 reincarnations. Nirvana means "to cease to exist...to escape the endless cycle of "Birth, pain, suffering, sorrow and death." The concept is like blowing out a candle. "Poof" it's gone. Having reached Nirvana Siddhartha Gautama couldn't hear or answer their prayers.

Just outside one of the four entrance ways to the top of the worship area I noticed this small pond and a vendor selling popcorn balls. People would buy one and throw it into the pond near the small pagoda where they were eaten by "catfish." Perhaps they believed that everything may be a god or sacred?

Years ago when I would show these pictures people would talk about how weird, strange and foolish these people were. Yet here in America we've got a huge number of churches where all kinds of foolish, unscriptural and false concepts are preached and believed by people who know very little about true Christianity.

My mother took me to one of those kind of churches when I was a little boy. When I was eleven years old I was totally uninterested in the church. I loved airplanes and wanted to be a pilot. God had other plans for me and for three long weeks I struggled with an encounter with the Lord. No one knew about my struggle....I cried, prayed, and tried to avoid him, but finally I couldn't bear the overwhelming presence and made a covenant with God on a Wednesday night at home in the bed by myself. I would give up my ambitions and be a minister of the Gospel. I found peace, plenty of hard times, and rest for my soul.

I've had some spectacular and totally unexpected encounters with God all through my life. I have first hand knowledge that God is the Divine creator and can do anything that pleases him. I feel sad that I can't tell anyone how to have that experience. I see many good people who want to experience God's presence but have to walk by faith. I can only tell them that we are all part of the body of Christ.

First, the church is seen as the body of Christ; and a cluster of images exists in this context as emphasis falls on the head (Eph. 4:15-16), the members (1 Cor. 6:12-20), the body (1 Cor. 12:12-27), or the bride (Eph. 5:22-31). The church is also seen as God's new creation (2 Cor. 5:17), the new persons (Eph. 2:14-15), fighters against Satan (Eph. 6:10-20), or bearers of light (Eph. 5:7-9). Thirdly, the church is quite often described as a fellowship of faith with its members described as the saints (1 Cor. 1:2), the faithful (Col. 1:2), the witnesses (John 15:26-27), or the household
of God (1 Pet. 4:17).

The preeminent characteristic of the church in the New Testament is devotion to Jesus Christ as Lord. He established the church under His authority (Matt. 16:13-20) and created the foundation for its existence in His redeeming death and demonstration of God's power in His resurrection. Christ's position as the Lord evoked, sustained, and governed the major characteristics of the life of the church in the way members were admitted, treated one another, witnessed to His power, worshiped, and lived in hope of His return.

The only way to understand this is to diligently study the Bible and especially the New Testament. I've been doing that for over 60 years, and find that I'm still growing in the Knowledge of Jesus Christ my Lord. It bothers me that Pastors, Church board members, denominations and all the people who love power and authority proudly boast that "this is my church, my denomination, my ministry".

The night I surrendered my life to the Lord I got up and found an old Bible. I opened it and read: "(John 17:20-23 NIV) "My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, {21} that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. {22} I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: {23} I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me."

I wonder how that great prayer of Jesus can ever be answered?