"I went to Jerusalem to become acquainted (Gk. istoria) with Cephas" - Paul's words from Galatians 1:18.

Don't Allow Your Life To End in a Grave of Craving

Dave Johnson and Jeff VanVonderen, co-authors of The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse (and a host of other helpful books), are speaking at a conference at Emmanuel Enid this week.

Sunday morning, Dave mentioned an obscure passage in Numbers 11:1-3 where the Scripture names a place in the Wilderness where the people of God continually complained about the difficulties of their lives and their dissatisfaction in God's provision for them. The people of Israel kept complaining "it could be better." The discontent people died at a place the English Bible translates Taberah.

The Hebrew name for that place is literally קִבְרוֹת הַתַּאֲוָה (kibroth hattaavah) or in English, "graves of craving."

Hunger is different from craving. Israel wasn't hungry. God fed them with manna every morning. Israel was craving something different. They craved the meats of Egypt rather than the manna (food) God provided every morning.

In the passage immediately following the name of the place where God's people died,  Moses describes their intense cravings for the things they had while they were in Egyptian bondage (Numbers 11:4-35).

A craving is "a strong wanting of what promises enjoyment or pleasure."

Israel's cravings would have taken them back to a place of bondage, destruction, and ultimate death (Egypt), but at least they would "enjoy" the journey.  So they were afflicted, died, and were buried in "graves of craving." 

They never made it to the Promised Land. 

Israel convinced themselves, “It was well with us in Egypt.”

It wasn't. 

But cravings have a way of causing God's people to miss our future purpose, to be confused about our past, and to be blind during the present.

Forgetfulness of  God's goodness and loving purpose is the soil where the plant of craving thrives. 

Next time you feel compelled toward a secret sin that is a compelling addiction that brings you pleasure or joy, ask yourself "Why am I craving this?"

The answer may reside in a lack of comprehension or appreciation for God's miraculous intervention and goodness in your life through the Lord Jesus.

Don't allow your life to end in a grave of craving. 

Calm Balm for the Soul: Healing for Emotional Pain

One of the greatest mistakes we make in life is believing the lie that someone else is in control of my emotions.

Because we wrongly associate the source of our internal pain with the failures of other people, we have a tendency to either control the people around us to be what we need them to be, or we 'shut down' and 'reject' the people in our lives who aren't meeting our expectations because it's too painful for us to even be around them.

That kind of behavior is what psychologists call codependency

Codependency is being so dependent on another person for my source of happiness in life that I do everything I can to fix any problems I see in that person. I work, work, work, to fix the person I need.

When failures occur and I feel pain, I point the finger of blame. "If you would only change, then I..." "If you wouldn't do this, then I..." Controlling and manipulating others to be what I need them to be is a very tiresome job. It often leads to the feelings of frustration and disgust that ends in complete rejection and abandonment of the person I used to believe I couldn't live without.

My problem is a lack of understanding that God never designed my emotions to be controlled by anyone but me.  I hold the remote control.

Healing only begins when I stop blaming other people for my internal pain.   

Let me tell you a story. 

There was once a wealthy young man who was in line to inherit his father's business. However, his brothers, jealous that their father had chosen him for such an honor, sought to him. However, they eventually sold their younger brother as a slave to a caravan of traders on their way to Egypt. This young man named Joseph would eventually spend years in a dark, lonely prison as a result of his brothers' behaviors toward him. If any person had a right to stew in pain over the poor performance of family members, it was Joseph (see Genesis 37:18-36). 

But Joseph harbored no grudges. In fact, Joseph wound up reaching out to his brothers in their time of need (Genesis 45). 

How is that possible? How could a man who had been so wronged, so mistreated, so despised and abused, reach out and warmly meet the needs of the very people who had wronged him? 

Joseph discovered that the source of healing for any pain within his soul was independent of the performance of other people. 

Remember that caravan to whom his brothers sold him as a slave?
"They saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, with their camels bearing gum, balm, and myrrh, on their way to carry it down to Egypt" (Genesis 37:25). 
The balm from Gilead. 

That's what rode beside Joseph all the way down into Egypt.

The region of Gilead was noted for balm which was an aromatic secretion of the balsam tree. The territory where this salve came from (an area north of the Dead Sea in the land of Israel) was originally given by God to Manasseh as an inheritance when the children of Israel entered the Promised Land. It was used by various countries as a fragrant, healing balm for people who'd been cut, wounded, or scarred. 

The prophet Jeremiah was familiar with the balm of Gilead. When God's people refused to realize that the LORD was to be their source of satisfaction in this life, and the Hebrews had turned to idols for their peace, security, and happiness, the LORD said:
 "Is there no balm in Gilead, Is there no physician there? Why then is there no recovery for the health of the daughter of my people?" (Jeremiah 8:22). 
The Balm of Gilead is a metaphor for the presence of God in one's life.

When J. C. Philpot preached on Jeremiah 8:22 in 1852, he pointed out that God’s grace is always greater than anyone's sin:
“There is more in the balm to heal than there is in the guilt of the wound; for there is more in grace to heal than there is sin to destroy.”
When we mistakenly believe our hurts are greater than His grace, and when we act on the lie that rejecting the person we believe to be the source of our pain is the way to be healed, then we have missed the truth that the Great Physician is the only Person capable of healing any internal pain.  

His grace is sufficient for me.

Resting in His love, His acceptance, His forgiveness, His provision, His promises, His warm embrace, His providence, His guidance, His sufficiency, and His plan for my life is the source of my strength. 

Is there no Balm in Gilead?

Yes, there is.

Jesus makes the wounded whole.

And He's always right beside me in scary journeys that go beyond my control. 

Finding Our Strength Through Knowing Our God

Mt. Paran

"Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy." Winston Churchill

The Hebrew word Selah is used often in the Davidic Psalms but is found only in one other chapter of the entire Bible -  the third chapter of the book of Habakkuk. 

Three times in Habakkuk chapter 3, the prophet uses the word Selah (vs. 3, 9, 13).

Selah is typically given one of three definitions.
1. Selah can mean "to lift up" as in a musical crescendo, or in the raising of your head and voice. We get our English word "solo" from this word.
2. Selah can mean "to stop" and "to contemplate." The word is always at the end of a sentence in Scripture, so it seems to convey "what you just read is worthy of pause."
3. Selah, some scholars say, is like English people saying "Amen" or "that is true." 
I personally see the warrant for all three definitions and don't believe them to be exclusive of each other. Combining all three, Selah, therefore, is a Hebrew word that encourages a person to lift his eyes to the heavens and contemplate Divine truth.

Here are the three times Selah is used in Habakkuk.

"God comes from ... Mount Paran. Selah." (Habakkuk 3:3). 

"God's bow was made bare. The rods of chastisement were sworn. Selah." (Habakkuk 3:9)

"You crushed the head of the house of the evil to lay him open from thigh to neck. Selah." (Habakkuk 3:13)

Habakkuk was a prophet of Israel during some very difficult days. Nebuchadnezzar and his army of 'fierce and impetuous' soldiers from Babylon (Hab. 1:6) were marching toward Jerusalem to destroy the city, tear down the Temple, and take God's people captive. 

Habakkuk knew trials, pain, and the day of calamity (Hab. 3:16) were coming. God showed the prophet the Babylonians were coming to destroy Israel through oracles or visions He gave to Habakkuk (see Habakkuk 3:1-2).

Habakkuk uses Selah three times in his writings and all three cause us to pause and contemplate a truth about God. 

1. God's protects us (Habakkuk 3:3).

Paran is a mountain in the desert of Paran in the land of Edom. Israel had to pass by the land of the Edomites, their enemies, as they made their way to the Promised Land. In Moses last public speech to Israel, he to God's people that Yahweh "shone forth" and came from Mount Paran "with ten thousand holy ones" (Deut. 33:2). God resides in the land of one's enemies, and He "comes forth" to the aid of His people even when enemies approach us. Selah.

Habakkuk knew the Law. He'd read Deuteronomy. He knew God was coming for His people from Paran, and that God's good and loving purposes for His people would be fulfilled, even in the face of their enemies. Selah. 

2. God has a purpose for us (Habakkuk 3:9).

The book of Habakkuk opens with the prophet complaining to God about the state of God's people. The Jews had been cold toward the Lord, vicious toward each other (e.g., "violence in the streets of Jerusalem"), and apathetic towards God's Law.

God responded to the prophet (Habakkuk 1:5-6):
"Be astonished! Wonder! Because I am doing something in your days—You would not believe if you were told. I am raising up the Babylonians, that ruthless and impetuous peoplewho sweep across the whole earth to seize dwellings not their own."
God was about to "disciple" (eg 'discipline) the people He loved.

In Scripture, the bow of God is the metaphor for chastisement.

"God's bow was made bare. The rods of chastisement were sworn. Selah." (Habakkuk 3:9)

God is more interested in our character than He is our comfort.

Therefore, every circumstance in life, even those negative things that happen to us, are designed by our loving, heavenly Father to produce in us the essence of His character.

We are to reflect Him in a dark world; and the Christian who lacks love, grace, the ability to forgive, and every other 'fruit of the Spirit' can rest assured that "He who began a good work in us will carry it on to completion" (Philippians 1:6). 

3. God will provide every need for us (Habakkuk 3:13)

"You crushed the head of the house of the evil ... Selah." (Habakkuk 3:13)

I want all of us to pause and think about this Divine truth for a moment.
God will orchestrate and arrange every circumstance in my life - even those Babylon experiences that I don't want - to crush 'the evil' which seeks to destroy me. 
Our loving Father has a perfect way of taking 'self'' out of us and producing the 'fruits of the Spirit' in us. 

That's His job. 

He doesn't fail. 

Selah. 

Adam's Story of Rejection, Abuse, Drugs, and Love

http://www.emmanuelenid.org/Emmanuel Enid has a powerful thrice-weekly ministry to men and women incarcerated in the Oklahoma Department of Corrections.

Every Sunday morning between 40 to 50 pre-release DOC inmates join us for our corporate worship services and a small group time. Every Sunday night they come back for another small group time at our building we call the Grace Place. Different Emmanuel members bring some home-cooking, and after sharing a meal, the inmates talk about what the Lord is doing in their lives. Many choose to stay in Enid when they get out of the Department of Corrections, moving their families to our city. When they introduce me to their family members, many of them tell me they've decided to move to Enid 'because of Emmanuel.'

Our business owners in the church are giving these recently released offenders jobs. I'm told they are some of the best employees in their respective fields. A couple in our church recently felt led to begin a small group for men and women newly released from prison called FREE WORLD. Last Sunday morning, Justin Parrish, the small group leader, baptized a young man who had surrendered his life to Christ through the ministries of Emmanuel Enid and Free World.

Every Wednesday night, around 20 to 25 of our DOC friends come to my mid-week Bible study. I love these folks. I'm not just saying that; I really mean it. I love them. They are one of the reasons that the ministry at Emmanuel Enid has been so fulfilling these last five years. We are seeing lives transformed by the power of Christ. 

Last night, right before I began to teach the mid-week Bible study, one of the incarcerated men stepped up to me and handed me a folded piece of paper. He said to me, "Pastor Wade, I don't know why I felt the need to write down my life story. I sensed God wanted me to give it to you. I can't thank you enough for what this church has done for me. You've saved my life. I now understand that God can love me because I see and feel people here loving me." He had tears in his eyes as he told me this. He said I could read his letter later, but I snuck away for a couple of minutes and read it before I taught.

Oh my.

My eyes got a little moist too. I later asked Adam if I could share his story on my blog, using only his first name. He said, "Yes. I hope my story helps someone."  Adam has no access to a computer, but after you read his story below, if it impacts you, leave him a message in the comment stream. I'll make sure he gets it.

The best thing that ever happened to our church is the realization that God has called us to stand in streets of conflict and not sit in seats of comfort. The tradition of religion invites trendy people to church, but the message of grace impacts messy people to conversion. Inviting the upper class to "come and see" is definitely easier, cleaner, and cheaper. But impacting a society's forgotten is more fulfilling. It's Kingdom work. It's what our King would have us do. It's a big picture purpose of ministry because it's both eternal and transformational.

The reason churches develop an ingrown isolation from the world is because we've forgotten the King's commission to transform the world. We are salt and light.  We're not supposed to cover our light nor are we to lose our efficacy as salt.  We are to shine where darkness resides and invade decay where it abides.

I'm honored to partner with people who understand this principle.

___________________________

Adam's Story

Dear Pastor Wade,

I am not quite clear on why I had an urge to tell you about my past, my trials and tribulations, and what kind of impact you and now "my" church home have had on me, so let's start from the beginning. 

I do not recall anything before the age of 4. My first and earliest vivid memory is when the police took me and my brother out of our home in Marietta, Oklahoma. I remember turning around in the cop car as it drove away, seeing my mother running down the street after us screaming "No, my babies!" I was put into a children's shelter and was there for only a short time. Both my brother and I were sexually assaulted. After a few months, we were separated. My brother went to a group home and I was placed in a foster home. 

For a time everything was fine until I was again sexually molested by another foster child. I was then taken away from that foster home for the same reason the police took me away from my parents - "Drugs." From there I was placed in another home where I was secluded to the couch. My foster parents fed me as little as possible. I was told not to move and I was always hungry.

I was rescued from this house and moved back to my original foster mom who had since divorced her drug-addicted husband. About a year later I was returned to my birth parents whom I hadn't seen in four years and had no memory of except for my mom running down the street after the cop car.

I was eight years old when I came home.

For the next two years I was sexually molested by my biological brother; the same brother who was harmed in the children's home four years earlier. At this point, though I was young, I turned from God and blamed Him for everything. I still struggle today with all that happened during those two years.

When I was 11 or 12 years of age, I can remember my parents doing drugs again. Though it wasn't as severe as before, they still shut me out of their lives due to their drug use. I turned to anything to keep me away from home. At 15 I held a full-time job and went to school. I played in the high school band. Those were my high school years; work, band, school. It worked. I kept myself busy until I graduated.

At 18 all I had was my job. My dad started getting really sick. He had triple bypass surgery when I was 18, so I moved back home to help. I started smoking pot. I smoked dope for three years to help me deal with my pain. After three years my dad ended up on dialysis. One day, before his hip surgery, he called me in and told me he was giving up. During surgery, something went wrong and dad ended up in ICU. 3 days later we took him off the ventilator. On July 25, 2011, the last words I spoke to my dad before he died were "Don't worry about Momma. I'll take care of her." 

But I fell really deep into drugs. I got married. A year later we split up. I got caught selling drugs and was charged with 2 counts of distribution. I was discharged from jail the day after Memorial Day 2014. Two months later, in July 2014, I got into an argument with my mom.

I watched her drive away for the last time. 

Two weeks later I found my mom had died (July 25, 2014), three years to the day that my dad had died (July 25, 2011). I never found out why she died, but I believe she overdosed on some of my dad's old medication. I dove even deeper into my addiction after mom's death. I was arrested again on drug charges. On September 15, 2016, I was headed back to prison. I spent one year at the Bill Johnson Correctional Center in Alva. While I was there, my custody of my one-year-old daughter was terminated.

On October 24, 2017, one year ago today, I came to the DOC's Enid Community Corrections Center and currently reside there. 

Let me tell you about this last year.

I began attending Emmanuel. For the past year, you all have taken me in and showed me love and a peace among people that I never in my wildest dreams imagined could have existed. While I've been at Emmanuel, the love and acceptance I've been given mirror the image of the one true, living God. Ya'll have helped me understand His love and grow in faith. I'm learning to love others the way God wants me to love because I'm learning what love is. His love. Your love. 

I am developing a sense of hope. Emmanuel has given that to me. I will never be able to repay you. 
You all have saved my life. 

All I can do is say 'Thank You.'

Adam

_______________________________________

The History/Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man

I will sometimes look at the metrics of Blogger and be surprised at the number of hits certain blogposts receive. In 2014 I wrote a post entitled The Rich Man and Lazarus: A Warning to Preachers and was recently surprised at the large number of unique "hits" this post has received. I've gone back and read this post and realized it is also one of my favorites.

In an effort to connect with some folks who may have missed this post when first published, I'm re-posting with a couple of edits. My hope is that those who are truly interested in Scripture will consider the caution Jesus gives to the professionally religious from this parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. Jesus didn't intend this parable as a doctrinal dissertation on the nature of hell. Rather, He was issuing a strong warning to the religious leaders of His day who used their positions of "authority" to fleece and abuse God’s people.

Here is the parable from Luke 16:19-31. I have emphasized in italicized bold the words deserving of your special attention:
"(19) Now there was a rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, joyously living in splendor every day. (20) And a poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores, (21) and longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man’s table; besides, even the dogs were coming and licking his sores. (22) Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried. (23) and in hell he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom. (24) And he cried out and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.’ (25) But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony. (26) And besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, so that those who wish to come over from here to you will not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us.’ (27) And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, that you send him to my father’s house— (28) for I have five brothers—in order that he may warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ (29) But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ (30) But he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!’ (31) But he said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.’” (Luke 16:19-31)
It is a given that those who seek diamonds must be experts at moving dirt. Digging in dirt is never enjoyable, but the anticipation of reward makes the effort bearable. So it is with Bible study. If you wish to find a diamond, you must work. So, bear with me, and let's do just a little work. It's worth it, I promise.

To understand the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus you must be familiar with a very obscure passage of Scripture that mentions seven political and religious leaders of Jesus day. It's found in Luke 3:1-2.
"Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip was tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene,  in the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John, the son of Zacharias, in the wilderness." (Luke 3:1-2).
Luke is introducing two Roman rulers, three Hebrew political leaders, and two Jewish religious leaders who were the chief antagonists of Jesus Christ throughout His earthly ministry. One cannot understand the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus without an understanding that Jesus tells this parable in order to rebuke the religious leaders of His day while at the same ignoring the political leaders. Frankly, we would be wise to model ourselves after Christ.

Principle: Quit worrying over the character and the abuse of power of our political leaders (they will always be corrupt), but never hesitate to rebuke those religious leaders who fleece God's people (they should not be corrupt).

(A). The Roman Rulers: Tiberius was the adopted son and sole heir of Augustus Caesar. He was the emperor of Rome (Caesar) throughout Jesus ministry. He became co-regent of the Roman Empire in AD 12 when his ailing adoptive father (Augustus)  became bedridden and could no longer function as emperor. Luke gives the date for the beginning of John the Baptist's ministry as 'the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar' (AD 26/27). Jesus once answered a question about paying taxes to Rome by saying, "Render to Caesar what is Caesar's." The Caesar to whom He referred was this Tiberius in Luke 3. Augustus Caesar was emperor over the Roman empire when Christ was born at Bethlehem. Augustus' son, Tiberius Caesar, was emperor over the Roman empire when Christ was crucified. The second Roman official named in this text is the infamous Pontius Pilate, governor of Judea. He is the Roman official who presides over the trial and execution of Jesus Christ. The American modern equivalent to Tiberius Caesar would be the President of the United States, and Pontius Pilate would be a state governor.

(B). The Hebrew Political Leaders: Luke then names three Hebrew political officials who ruled during Jesus' ministry in Judea - Herod, Philip the Tetrarch (Herod's brother), and Lysanias. Who are these three men? They are the 'leaders' of the ethnic Jews in Jesus day. They were also the sons and political heirs of Herod the Great, the former 'king of the Jews' who died in 4 BC. Herod the Great went ballistic when the wise men asked him "Where is He who is born king of the Jews?" because he (Herod the Great) was already king of the Jews. Herod died shortly after the birth of Jesus Christ. His political kingdom was then divided into regional fourths (Greek: tetrarchys) and distributed among his surviving sons to rule (tetrarchs). Leaders of the Judean tetrarchy mentioned in Luke 3 included Herod (nicknamed Antipas), Philip (often called Philip the Tetrarch), and Lysanias. These men were powerful among the Jews, but they couldn't do anything without Rome's permission

At the birth of Jesus, we read in Matthew 2 that Herod the Great was 'king of the Jews.' Thirty-three years later when Jesus is crucified, we read in Luke 23 that Herod orders soldiers to beat Christ and take him to Pilate. This 'Herod' at Christ's crucifixion is the Herod mentioned in Luke 3. He is the son of Herod the Great and is sometimes called Herod Antipas. The quarter of the region Herod was given to 'rule' as tetrarch included Galilee, the land where both John and Jesus based their ministries.  Herod Antipas is the one who had John the Baptist beheaded (picture).

In the ethnic melting pot we call the United States, it is difficult to find a modern equivalent to the tetrarchy positions held by Herod, Philip, and Lysanias. The closest equivalent might be those men who rule over individual political parties, major corporations, unions, and other powerful economic, political, and cultural entities within America. These positions aren't the highest of authority, for they must answer to 'Caesar,' but they have a great deal of influence over a specific category of people.

(C). The Jewish Religious Leaders: Two Wealthy, Powerful Priests. The final two men named by Luke in Luke 3:1-3 are  religious leaders who served as high priests of Israel.  Their names are Annas and Caiaphas. Modern Christians know very little about these two men. Annas was high priest over Israel for ten years (AD 6-15), until at the age of 36, he was removed by the Roman governor Guratus, the predecessor to Pontius Pilate. The other man, Caiaphas, served as high priest over Israel from AD 18 to AD 36, a time period that encompassed all of Jesus adult life and public ministry.

Annas had five sons and one daughter. His daughter married Caiaphas. Interestingly, every one of Annas five sons--as well as his son-in-law Caiaphas--served as the high priest of Israel during Annas' lifetime. Though Caiaphas was high priest during the time of Jesus, Luke names both Annas and Caiaphas because Annas was the power behind the high priest of Israel. It was said that "Annas ruled the religious world," even though his own children were the chief priests of Israel and each had their turn as 'high priest.' It was to Annas that the people first brought Jesus after our Lord's arrest. Only after being questioned by Annas was Jesus sent to Caiaphas for official trial by the Sanhedrin. Modern religious leaders, like Annas, have a tendency to want to control and run things 'behind the scenes.'

Annas and Caiaphas hated everything to do with Christ. Caiaphas particularly was the chief antagonist of our Lord. Caiaphas lived in a palatial mansion inside the walls of Jerusalem. He served as President of the Sanhedrin. If you saw Caiaphas walking around the streets of Jerusalem, he would always have his servants and attendants around him, and he would be dressed in the finest purple and fine linen. He ate the most sumptuous meals, drank the finest wines, always traveled first class, and lived better than the 'common Jew.' The modern equivalent of Caiaphas would be the wealthy religious leaders in America who take a spiritual position of authority and power over the common people of the land.

Jesus Condemns the Religious Leaders and Ignores the Political Leaders

It is striking to discover that Jesus says very little about the corrupt Roman and Judean political leaders of His day. These leaders--men like Tiberius Caesar, Herod Antipas, and Pontius Pilate--were all evil men. Yet, Jesus says very little publicly about any of them. In fact, when questioned about the supreme political leader (Caesar), Jesus simply says "Give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar." Jesus is also completely silent before Herod during His trial. Instead of railing against Herod's abuse of political power, Jesus says nothing. It seems Jesus had little to say about politics.

Yet, Jesus boldly and soundly condemned Annas and Caiaphas, the 'rich' religious leaders of His day.

Ironic, is it not, that modern evangelicals often rail against political leaders, but there is an appalling silence when it comes to religious leaders who become rich off the money given by God's people?

Notice the anger and greed of the religiously rich in Jesus' day. The Bible tells us in John 12 that after Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, Caiaphas and Annas sought to kill Lazarus 'because many people were going away and were believing in Jesus.' These people 'going away' from the religious institutions--entities governed by Annas and Caiaphas--did so because they had seen Lazarus, a former dead man, walking around regenerated and enlivened by the power of Christ. These people had seen the power of Christ, and they were now uninterested in institutional religion. John the Apostle puts it like this:
"The large crowd of the Jews then learned that He was there; and they came, not for Jesus' sake only, but that they might also see Lazarus, whom He raised from the dead. But the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death also; because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and were believing in Jesus. (John 12:9-11)
There are many places that Jesus condemns the religiously rich (i.e. 'the chief priests')  throughout the New Testament, but the most striking example is found in this parable that is more than a parable. Let's read the parable again and see the High Priest of the Jews (Caiaphas) is the Rich Man Jesus is condemning:

 "The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus."
“(19) Now there was a rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, joyously living in splendor every day. (20) And a poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores, (21) and longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man’s table; besides, even the dogs were coming and licking his sores. (22) Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried. (23) and in hell he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom. (24) And he cried out and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.’ (25) But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony. (26) And besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, so that those who wish to come over from here to you will not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us.’ (27) And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, that you send him to my father’s house— (28) for I have five brothers—in order that he may warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ (29) But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ (30) But he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!’ (31) But he said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.’”
Caiaphas, the High Priest of Israel, is the rich man in Jesus parable. Caiaphas is the man "who lifted up his eyes in hell."  Caiaphas, the equivalent to a modern religious leader who becomes rich through his religious service, is the man condemned by Jesus Christ. How do we know this to be true?


  • The rich man wears the robes the color of the High Priest (purple and fine linen).
  • The rich man mistreats the poor man named Lazarus (just as Caiaphas sought to kill Lazarus).
  • The rich man asks a messenger to go to his 'father's house' (Annas' house).
  • The rich man had five brothers (Annas had five sons, Caiaphas was his son-in-law and considered his brothers-in-law to be his brothers).
  • The rich man desires a warning to be given to his five brothers about their behavior (all five of Caiaphas' brothers--the sons of Annas--followed him as 'chief priest' of Israel).
  • The rich man is told that they will not believe "even if someone rises from the dead" (just as Caiaphas, his father Annas, and his five brothers refused to believe in Jesus after Lazarus had been raised from the dead).

If you are a topical preacher you might pick the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus and wax eloquent on the subject of 'hell.' You might say something like (1). Hell is real, (2). Hell is rough. (3). Hell is ready. Then you might give the following application: "If you don't let go of your riches and willingly give your tithes and offerings to the church, you may find yourself waking up one day in hell, wanting to warn others to 'repent' and let go of their riches. Don't wait until it is too late! Give to the Kingdom of God today by giving your tithes and offerings!"

That, my friend, is the sorry state of evangelical preaching today. It's taking a text (the Rich Man and Lazarus) out of its context (the resurrection of Lazarus and the chief priests desire to kill Lazarus and stop others from believing on Christ) and turning it into a pretext (a false conclusion).

The lessons of the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus are only obtained when you systematically and intentionally learn the Scriptures, take texts in their contexts, and focus on the life transforming truth from God's word. The lessons of the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus are as follows:

(1). Any of us who are working in professional religious ministry in order to become rich through our religious services may wake up one day in hell, facing the holy judgment of God.
(2). Instead of railing against the world and our American culture--be it politics, business, Hollywood or some other segment of society--we preachers ought to reserve our harshest words for the religious who seek to become rich by abusing God's people, and focus more on giving the Bread of Life to those who are hungry, regardless of the cost.
(3). We do our Sunday morning crowd a favor when we teach the Scriptures verse by verse because we create a safeguard from misapplications which arrive out of false conclusions of a text, and we will give our hearer a better appreciation of the Person of Jesus Christ and His power to transform lives.

Those, in my opinion, are the lessons of the Rich Man and Lazarus.

The Official End of Paige Patterson's Control and Domination of the Southern Baptist Convention

Photo: Matt Miller of Baptist Press
United States President Donald Trump has sent Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, to ask direct questions about the disappearance and presumed murder of Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi.

In the Saudi world, opposition to the absolute power and authority of the royals means imprisonment or death.

In the Southern Baptist world, at least for the past forty years (1978 - 2018), opposition to Paige Patterson meant occupational, personal, and vocational banishment.

The forty years of wandering in a spiritual desert are officially over for the Southern Baptist Convention. The trustees of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary will open the doors to their first plenary session since the historic 2018 Southern Baptist Convention.

They will have to answer some questions of their alleged "oversight" of former President Paige Patterson while he served as President of their institution, all the while seeking to control every other institution in the SBC world.

I started this blog in 2005 when I saw for myself how Patterson lackeys fawned over him and did his bidding in banishing opposition from positions of leadership. For nearly 15 years I've been writing of the travesty of what our Convention has become.

Finally, people have listened.

I have heard that there is now freedom among entity heads to speak freely. No more intimidation. No more power plays. No more control.

He's gone.

But now, SWBTS trustees, you must be prepared to answer some tough questions. Rather than comment on the questions that must be answered, I'd encourage readers to peruse the documentation attached to the links and formulate your own opinions.

And listen closely to the answers given by SWBTS trustees.

1. How could you allow your former President to have 18 full-time employees in the "President's Office" tasked with hospitality, transportation, and assisting the President and 'First Lady"?

2. How could you approve either directly or indirectly (by your non-action) the astronomical decrease in enrollment and millions of dollars in 'pet-projects' and creature comforts for the President and 'First Lady' which had no direct bearing on the purpose and mission of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary?

3. Where were you when female professors were fired for their gender?

4. Where was your oversight when bylaws were violated and student admissions to SWBTS by Presidential fiat occurred, allowing students to enroll at Southwestern when they couldn't even give a profession of faith in Jesus Christ?

5. How could you ignore the financial crisis that has been building for at least a decade, approving capital investment in new buildings, while not even able to fund the retirement accounts of current employees?

6. Will you do your due diligence and prevent institutional files from being removed by the Pattersons, or will you fall back to bad habits of either ignoring or allowing harmful actions to occur at the very institution you are tasked to oversee?

7. What are you going to do with the stained glass windows you allowed to be installed at a chapel allegedly devoted to the worship of Christ?

8. What are you going to do with the  "amateurish imitations" (Dr. Arstein Justnes' phrase) of Dead Sea Scrolls your institution purchased and placed on display?

9. Will the retirement house you were building for the Pattersons on the campus of SWBTS now be used for educational purposes?

10. Will you now hold accountable the gentleman you allowed Dr. Patterson to place in a faculty position of authority and oversight, ensuring all things were done according to his wishes?

These are serious questions.

And thankfully, we live in a country where those who ask them aren't murdered.

But the era of blackballing opposition to Fundamentalist SBC Leaders is officially over.


The 3 Attitudes that Transform Any Organization

Years ago my father, Paul Burleson, taught me three principles that he required his church staff to follow. I have found these principles to be invaluable in keeping working relationships healthy, whether it be in business, personal relationships, or ministry.

The reasons I value them is because, in hindsight, I can see how implementing these principles have enabled me to avoid many pitfalls. In addition, any organization will thrive in its mission where these principles guide the attitudes and actions of its employees. There may be some who wrongly think these principles apply only to Christian people, but I would propose that because they are principles, they'll work for anyone. 

Principle #1 - A Positive Spirit

"I will always be positive about life because I know that no matter how difficult or dark things seem to be,  God is in control. Further, because God's nature is good (e.g. "His name God is an abbreviation of Good), God is working all things for my good through current circumstances.

It is amazing what a deep understanding of God's goodness and sovereignty will do for someone when problems arise.

Principle #2 - A Servant's Heart

"I will work my hardest and do my best to make sure that those around me succeed in life and are viewed by others in the best possible light. For when I esteem others and value others more than I do myself, I live as my Creator designed me to live, and when I don't, I bring dysfunction upon my organization by destroying my purpose in life." 

This selfless attitude prevents "turf wars" where people take ownership and protect all things "mine" or "about me." Being a servant is the opposite of self-absorption. Self-absorption is where someone does what they do for personal identity, promotion, or self-worth. Ironically, God will always ultimately exalt the servant, but He will always ultimately bring low the proud. 

Principle #3 - A Loyal Spirit

"I will neither give nor receive a negative word about you unless you are aware of that which is being said or heard by me."

When someone talks about others rather to others, it breeds disloyalty to, dysfunction in, and destruction of common goals. This little principle, if NOT followed, reveals more about the person who gossips than the one gossiped about. 

An organization with employees who put into practice these principles will find itself transformed for the better. 

Oklahoma's Football Coach a Pulitzer Prize Winner

This Saturday, October 6, 2018, the #7 ranked Oklahoma Sooners will play the #19 Texas Longhorns in the Red River Rivalry Game at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Texas.

I've been attending this game since 1974, and Rachelle and I will be going again this year. I've written about my familial connection to it before, and if one loves football (as I do), the game is a highlight of the collegiate season.

Invariably, Texas fans will make jokes about the ignorant Sooner fans, and the Texas band will stop just long enough in their marching to chant "Beat the hell out of OU," so Oklahoma fans should anticipate another weekend of sarcasm from Texas fans as they berate their biggest rival.

But for all our Texas friends and family members, I'd like to share a piece of Oklahoma football trivia with you that should at least cause you pause before you question the intellect of Oklahoma Sooners players, fans, and coaches.

V.L. Parrington


Oklahoma University head football coach Vernon L. Parrington won the Pulitzer Prize (1928) for his epic historical work Main Currents in American Thought, Bruce Brown, in his new introduction to Parrington's Pulitzer Prize classic writes of Oklahoma's ground-breaking football coach:
VERNON LOUIS PARRINGTON was a truly great American -- this nation's seminal intellectual historian, the inventor American literary criticism, the founder of the Oklahoma Sooner football and still one of the winningest coaches in the history of University of Oklahoma's storied football program, perhaps the greatest classroom teacher of the 20th century at the University of Washington in Seattle, where he spent most of his mature years, and the winner of the Pulitzer Prize for history.
For a fuller biographical sketch of Parrington, read Brown's full essay here.

Next time you are on the campus of the University of Oklahoma and spend a little time at historic Campus Corner, look straight across Boyd Street at the Parrington Oval. The football coach with an 80% winning record during his three-year tenure (1897-1900) is honored with his name on the campus' north oval.

I'm writing a paper on Coach Parrington entitled Transformation of a Tory: V.L. Parrington and the Progressive Populism of America’s Seminal Intellectual Historian.

As I walk the fairgrounds of the Cotton Bowl and hear the Texas taunts, I'll not respond out of cool confidence that Oklahoma football has had the only Pulitzer Prize coach in NCAA Divison I history.

Oklahoma University's South Oval
Portrait of Gate at Parrington Oval (North Oval)




Brett Kavanaugh's Problem of Proving a Negative

Saul Loeb / AFP - Getty Images file
Time magazine declared that the denial of my motion to track sexual predators who work as clergy in one of America's largest Protestant denominations "one of the top ten most underreported stories in America" in 2008.

Holding accountable perpetrators of sexual assaults and giving support to victims is a decades-long desire of mine.

I believe it is high time that America wakes up to the problem of sexually predatory behavior and strengthens the laws that hold perps accountable. In other words, I laud the work done in the Bill Cosby court case.

But read carefully the following paragraph.
In the courts of America, the burden of proof (Latin: onus probandi) is the obligation of the claimant, not the defendant. The defendant is to be initially presumed innocent and to receive the benefit of the doubt, while the claimant bears the burden to prove his or her claim. 
No matter how empathetic and sympathetic we feel toward victims of sexual abuse, to maintain a civilized society, we must never forsake individual liberties for the sake of cultural sensitivities.

There is a gross imbalance between the time and effort of making a claim of sexual impropriety with the time and effort of disproving a claim.

That's why the burden of proof is on the claimant, not the defendant, and Americans should fear any process where the defendant has the onus (burden) to disprove a claim. Flipping the burden of proof to the defendant from the claimant is a threat to liberty in a civilized culture.

During the Salem witch trials, women were tortured and killed simply because men claimed they were witches and the women were wrongly burdened to prove they were not. 

It's where we get the phrase "witch hunt."

In civilized societies regulated by law, a claimant must prove that something did happen rather than a defendant being burdened to prove that something did not happen. It is much easier to prove a positive than it is a negative.

Claims of sexual abuse and inappropriate sexual behavior have been made against Brett Kavanaugh, nominee to the Supreme Court of the United States.

Most reports of sexual assault, abduction, or other serious sexual crimes are true.

However, it is possible that someone might make a false claim of sexual assault, and the consequences can be horrific. It is also possible that a victim of sexual assault can misidentify the perpetrator and not lie about what happened, but simply be mistaken about the person who did it. The consequences are equally horrific.

That's why the burden of proof should always be on the claimant and the presumption of innocence on the accused until the evidence is presented and a judgment is made. 

The important part of today's congressional hearings is that no American should place the burden of proving a sexual assault did not take place on Brett Kavanaugh. 

If the burden of proof is not met by the claimants, then Brett Kavanaugh should be appointed to the Supreme Court. 

If we flip the burden of proof in America, our country will be entering a very dangerous time indeed. 

The Difference Between My Church and His Church

The other day I went to a fast-food restaurant and ordered a couple of salads. It was my turn to do dinner, so I did it the easy way. After arriving home, I realized the restaurant hadn't given me the condiments for my salads (dressing, nuts, etc.). I got back in the car and took my second trip across town, back to that same fast-food restaurant. Arriving home the second time, I realized that the condiment packets didn't have what should have been in them.

Argghh. Frustrating.

I didn't get what I wanted. I felt poorly served. Nobody at the restaurant recognized the trouble I'd been through, and no coupon was offered me for the hassle. In fairness, this restaurant is usually spot-on in their service. I only vented a little to my wife and then let it go, believing the restaurant staff was just having a difficult day.

When we pay for something at a restaurant, we want to enjoy it, be served well, experience comfort and convenience, and always leave satisfied. We want it all the time, no matter the cost. My heart goes out to those who own or manage restaurants. It's a tough business.

I think most of us treat churches like restaurants. 

"I want this, this, and this." I want it served my way. If I don't get it the way I want it, I'll blame those who work at my church. After a season of frustration and irritation, many Christians switch churches like people switch restaurants.

The unspoken job description of the pastor is to make everyone happy, provide excellent services, and keep members as comfortable and content as possible. Everyone wants a church that delivers the salad on time, complete with packets of condiments, and a staff that always recognizes the customers/members and makes everything convenient and comfortable.

What's your favorite restaurant?
What's your favorite church?

Non-profit religious organizations (501C-3)'s are businesses by the very nature of incorporation. If there is a leader of a non-profit (e.g. "pastor") who tells you he doesn't care if the corporate members are happy, he's not being as truthful as he could. Every pastor cares about members. He must. Christians treat their non-profit religious organization like a restaurant to not care for the customers.

However, something magical happens when Christians begin to understand that His Church is not the same thing as "my church." 

The gates of hell will not prevail against His Church.
The influential business leaders typically prevail in my church.

The leader of His Church is One who never makes mistakes.
The leaders of my church are people who often make mistakes.

The building housing His Church are people who form a Temple that He owns.
The building housing my church is made of wood and stone which members own.

His Church is composed of people from every nation, tribe, kindred, and tongue.
My church is usually composed of people who all look the same and act the same.

His Church is always motivated by sinners learning what it means to boast in Christ.
My church is mostly concerned that other people boast of us being the biggest and the best.

His Church will selflessly serve, generously give, and willingly work for the good of others.
My church will look within to see how we can make members happy, comfortable, and content.

An effective Christian leader is one who leads people to think in terms of His church and not my church. 

Or, to put it another way, when His Church becomes our priority, we stop seeing ourselves as saints singing of grace while keeping ourselves insulated and isolated from the world, and we start seeing ourselves as sinners saved by grace who become intentional and inspirational to other sinners in the world.

A church on mission is messy.

Jesus was a friend to sinners. The way to tell whether or not it is His Church or my church is whether or not sinners call us their friends.

10 years ago, no prisoners attended my church. This Sunday close to 50 prisoners will be attending His church. 10 years ago, nobody talked about the need for recovery at my church. This week dozens of men and women will gather on Thursday night to celebrate celebrating their recoveries from addictive and harmful behaviors at His Church. 10 years ago, we'd never dream of having a tatted up usher guiding people to their seats at my church. This past Sunday a tatted-up recent convert to Christ - just out of jail - guided my wife and me to our seats at His Church. 10 years ago we never would have spent money on transitional housing for the homeless at my church. In the past few years, His Church has spent tens of thousands of dollars in establishing men's and women's transitional housing.

It's messy, but it's a blessing.

As one woman said to Rachelle and me just last week: "I think His Church is the only church that would welcome a sinner like me."

If "your church" is working toward becoming His Church - and the building is not like you like it all the time, and the programs are not what they used to be, and the people don't look like you anymore; and the services don't remind you of the services you had when you were a child, and the money is spent on more outward ministry than inward ministries, and sinners actually are present in the congregation - please be patient. 

Sometimes the condiments aren't in the packet at my church.

But that may happen because His Church has left the restaurant.

Authoritarianism, Fundamentalism, and Religious Leaders Who Control Those in Front of Them

Mariam Ishag, a Christian woman in Sudan, was hanged by fundamentalist religious leaders for 'apostasy.'

In Sudan, there is no difference between 'civil' authority and 'religious' authority. The civil authorities in charge of Sudan believe it a crime to be a Christian.

Judge Abbas Mohammed Al-Khalifa sentenced Mariam to death with these words: "We gave you three days to recant but you insist on not returning to Islam. I sentence you to be hanged to death."

The Sudanese judge believes himself to be God's authority over this woman's life. He sentenced Mariam 'to death' because he believes he possesses his power and authority from the Divine. When the judge speaks, he believes he speaks for Allah.

Most American evangelicals will cringe at such abuse of authority.

However, American evangelicals need to self-examine before criticizing Islamic perversions of religious authority. Radical Islamicists carry out in this life what American evangelicals decree for the next life.

Condemnation. Judgment. Death.

The most dangerous kind of 'authority' is the kind that takes away a person's freedoms to believe, speak, and live - in this life - as that person desires.

Fundamentalism and extremism, regardless of the religion which gives birth to it, is birthed by religious leaders who claim Divine appointment and who feel the mandate to control all the people in front of them.

Tight control over others is a tell-tale sign of little confidence within myself.

G.K. Chesterton once said, "The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him."

To be a soldier set on fire from hell is to be the kind of person who seeks to control those in front (e.g. religious fundamentalism or secular humanism).

To be a true soldier of Christ is to be the kind of person who acknowledges, accepts, and answers those who ask "of the hope that is within us" and refuses to fight.

Why do true soldiers of Christ not fight their "enemies"?

Because we know that what is behind us is already saved and safe by God's grace. 

And we believe that Christ meant it when He said 'By your love for others will all know that you are My disciples" (John 13:35).

Avoid authoritarianism. Avoid fundamentalism.

The former gives birth to the latter, but Christ roots both out of His people.

Abraham Lincoln Converted to Christ at Gettysburg

I recently came across a post I originally shared 10 years ago. It's the story of how President Abraham Lincoln consecrated his life to Jesus Christ while walking the battlefields of Gettysburg. 

My heart was warmed as I read the story as originally shared by D. James Kennedy, the former pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church.  

Dr. Kennedy preached this message more than once during the course of his ministry at Coral Ridge, and I understand why. History books do not portray Lincoln's faith. It's a story, however, that needs to be repeated at least once a decade. 


TEXT"Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." Romans 5:1

The most perfect speech ever uttered by mortal man was delivered on the battlefield of Gettysburg. It has been learned by unnumbered millions of children in school. It is actually an extended personification, where America is personified as a man who is conceived, born, dedicated, lives his life, engages in dangerous and perhaps mortal struggles, is born anew, and lives thereafter gloriously. Abraham Lincoln is immortal in the minds and memories of his countrymen, for on the battlefield at Gettysburg, this is what he said:
Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us, the living, rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom; and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
The world noted, far more than he ever thought, the words that were spoken there, though Lincoln's invitation to speak was an afterthought. The orator of the day, of course, was Edward Everett, perhaps the greatest in the land, who spoke for two hours. What did he say? No one knows. Lincoln spoke for two minutes and no one has forgotten! Remarkable, indeed. But the question I would ask of you today is: Is Lincoln immortal in any other way than merely in the memory of his countrymen? That, indeed, is a great honor, but it is little felt by those that are dead. Is he immortal in the far greater sense, next to which immortality and the memory of his people is but a pale substitute? Is he immortal in the real sense of everlasting life which Jesus Christ and Christ only can give to a man, or to put it another way:

Was Abraham Lincoln a Christian?

Now I, in preaching this message, am not endeavoring to merely exhume the bones of Lincoln for some kind of belated autopsy. But rather, this is another way of proclaiming anew that Gospel message with which he struggled all of his life in the hope that as we emphasize and sympathize with his struggles with the great verities of life and death and eternity, that some of you will ask yourselves the deeper and more relevant question: Am I a Christian? Are you?

Consider well the sixteenth President of the United States. Like the nation he described in its conception, Lincoln was conceived in the midst of great religious fervor. There was a revival going on in Kentucky in 1809 of the type associated with the evangelist Peter Cartwright. (By the way, when Lincoln was grown, he entered into a political contest with Cartwright in running for the same office.) But in the midst of a prayer meeting, young Tom Lincoln leaped to his feet in the midst of this religious fervor and began to dance around and sing. A moment or two later, a young lady by the name of Nancy, did the same thing. They were soon introduced, engaged, and shortly thereafter married. In the midst of that religious fervor, Abraham Lincoln was born to Tom Lincoln and Nancy Hanks Lincoln. Certainly a spiritually, encouraging beginning. His mother was a godly woman who sat Lincoln upon her knees day after day after day and read to him the Scriptures and encouraged him to remember it. Particularly, she encouraged him to learn the Ten Commandments. (Every parent should certainly have their children memorize the Ten Commandments.)

They had a profound effect upon Lincoln's life. He said that whenever he was tempted to do something wrong, he could still hear the clear tones of his mother's voice saying, "I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee up out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage . . . Thou shalt have no other gods before me . . . Thou shalt not steal . . . Thou shalt not kill . . . Thou shalt not bear false witness . . . " Abraham Lincoln became known, believe it or not, as the most honest lawyer east of China. As a young prairie lawyer in Illinois, when his opponents forgot or did not know some points in arguments, he would remind them. Once, when he was a shopkeeper, he walked for miles to return an overpayment of only a few cents by one of the customers. Lincoln also had a great regard for the Sabbath, as well. At one time during the war, when he was President, he went to Falmouth and there he visited with the general, who told him he was going to begin on Sunday the March to Richmond. Richmond was the heart of the Confederacy, its capital, and this well could mean the end of the war, for which Lincoln had so fervently prayed for so long. But the general brought it up because he knew of the opposition the President had toward beginning military initiatives on the Sabbath day. The President was silent for a long while. Then he said, "General take a good rest and begin on Monday morning."

Lincoln was never a member of any church. Would that the members of this church had as high a regard for the Sabbath as Lincoln did. I would like to express my appreciation to many writers who have contributed to this message. I have read thousands of stories about Lincoln, perused his entire total works, and numbers of biographies. I particularly appreciate William J. Johnson's excellent biography of Lincoln. My appreciation to the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington for sending me copies of historical documents and affidavits from their archives, and to the late F. W. Boreham, the great Australian preacher, whose Outline I would like to borrow for this message, and also, many others who have brought to my attention new information.

THE AGE OF IRON

Boreham says there were three mountains Lincoln climbed where his life was changed. The first stage he described as the Age of Iron, where he "climbed Mount Sinai with Moses" in his effort to keep the command- ments of God. He had learned the Ten Commandments on his mother's knee. Those commandments influenced his life in such an incredible way that he gave himself to studying them. When Lincoln was only nine, his mother sickened, and before she died she called him to her side and said to him, "I am going away from you now Abraham and shall not return. I know that you will be a good boy and that you will be kind to your father. I want you to live as I have taught you to love your Heavenly Father," and then her last words, "and keep His commandments."

Yes, Lincoln strove mightily to keep those commandments. But the question is: Was he a Christian? Listen to Lincoln's own words: "I am not a Christian. God knows I would be one." He said that he did not read the Scriptures like those clergymen in Springfield who opposed his election because of his skepticism. And they were right. When Lincoln came to Springfield, he fell in with some agnostic and skeptical friends who gave him, among other things, Volney's Ruins, a great volume of unbelief which attacked viciously and articulately the Scriptures. By the way, Volney's Ruins has been repudiated on every page, but Lincoln did not know that then. This had a tremendously chilling effect upon his boyhood faith, and he became quite skeptical. "I am not a Christian," he said in the Age of Iron.


THE AGE OF CLAY


The second mountain Lincoln climbed was described by Boreham as the Age of Clay, when he climbed Mount Carmel with Elijah, where he was clay in the hands of the Almighty Potter. What was Lincoln like? When he was a young man, he looked in a mirror one day and said to himself, "It's a fact, Abe! You are the ugliest man in the world. If ever I see a man uglier than you, I'm going to shoot him on the spot!" It would no doubt, he thought, be an act of mercy. What was his personality like as a young man? We've seen what he thought of himself, and of course, we can't help but conjure up some pictures of this rather unique looking gentleman. He was six foot four in a world of midgets when everybody else was far shorter than they are today. He towered over everyone head and shoulders. Of course, there were those horribly long arms, the bane of his tailors, with these gigantic hands; that uncontrollable lock of hair on his forehead; deep dark eyes; sallow skin. Indeed, he could not see what any young lady could see in him. And yet, when you look at him sitting there in that great chair at the Lincoln Memorial, you can't help but feel that somehow there is a certain grandeur about this man who thought he was so ugly.

What was his personality like? One day a young lady that he had attempted to date said, "Abe Lincoln, you are illiterate, self-opinionated, overbearing and abominably ill-mannered." (She liked to beat around the bush.) What did Lincoln do? What, gentleman, would you do in a situation like that? He determined to completely change himself, and he turned to the Scriptures. He still had his mother's Bible, and he began to read in the Sermon on the Mount and other passages in the Bible about what God intended a man to be like. Was he illiterate? He became the most literate President we have ever known. As I said, his Gettysburg Address is considered to be the most perfect speech ever uttered by mortal man, but I disagree. I think his Second Inaugural Address is far superior even to that. Was he proud and overbearing? He became the humblest President we have ever had.

Someone once asked me what I thought was his most outstanding quality. I said it was his ability to forgive anyone anything because he was himself so humble. Lincoln's humility is further seen when, immediately after the war, he went to Richmond to the home of the President of the Confederacy who was, as you might imagine, "not home." His wife came to the door carrying a little baby in her arms, the baby of Jefferson Davis. The baby reached out to the President. Of course, Mrs. Davis was astounded to see Lincoln standing in her doorway. He took the baby into his arms and was given a big wet smack on the face. He handed the baby back to Mrs. Jefferson Davis and said, "Tell your husband that for the sake of that kiss, I forgive him everything." He was an incredibly humble man.

One time during the war Lincoln went to the home of General McClellan. Now McClellan had a hearty dislike for Lincoln, but he was a good general. Lincoln wanted him to become the general of the Army of the Potomac because the war was not going well at all. When he arrived at his home that evening with an aide, the general was not home. The butler ushered them into the library, and they waited. They waited for over an hour. Finally, the general came home, and the butler told him that the President of the United States was waiting to see him. But McClellan went upstairs. Ten, twenty, thirty minutes passed. Finally, the butler went upstairs and again said, "Sir, the President is still waiting for you." In a few minutes, he came back down and told the President, "The general has gone to bed." If you were President of the United States, what would you do? Lincoln went back the next night. His aide said, "Sir, how can you put up with that ill-mannered boor?" Lincoln replied: "Why, I would be willing to hold McClellan's horse if only he will give victory to our army."

He, indeed, was putty in the hands of the Almighty, and he had done this through studying the Scriptures. Theodore Roosevelt said that Lincoln mastered only one book and that was the Bible. He had committed thousands of verses to memory--many whole chapters--and he was trying to change his life to be what God would want him to be. He was a man whose life was filled with tragedy. His beloved mother died when he was but nine. Then his sister died. The woman he loved, Ann Rutledge, could never be his. After his father remarried, every Sunday his stepmother took Abe and his sister to the Pigeon Creek Hardshell Baptist Church. Here they listened to the fiery sermons about predestination, justification, foreordination, sanctification, and the new birth. He and Sarah sat in the front row and listened to it all but he never understood it.

He was married to a woman who certainly challenged his humility, Mary Todd. Lincoln is loved by people all over the world as the wife of the most beloved President the United States has ever had. But Mary Todd never saw anything good in him at all. As far as she was concerned he had terrible faults. He walked flatfooted, she said, with his toes turned down like an Indian. Furthermore, he slouched when he walked. He was head and shoulders taller than everybody else. Maybe he wanted to join the crowd. But Mary never saw anything good in this man. Poor Mary, or should I say, poor Abraham, but humbly he endured it all to the end.

THE GOLDEN AGE


Then the great tragedy of his life occurred when his little son, Willie, the apple of his eye, died. He was crushed. There is no doubt that he believed at this time strongly in the providence of God, though he could not understand and had rejected much else in the Bible, especially concerning the doctrines of salvation and redemption, which he could never understand due to the way it was presented to him. But he believed in God's providence, and he was to climb now, at last, the third mountain, Mount Calvary, with Saint John. This was what Boreham describes as the Golden Age. There he was to find something he had never seen before. Was he a Christian at this time? Ward Lamon, who had been his law partner, who had been his private secretary when he was President, who had been his bodyguard for years, and who knew him intimately, said of Lincoln, “...the melancholy that dripped from him as he walked was due to his want of religious faith."

But then little Willie died, the apple of his eye, his beloved son, his little boy. Lincoln was absolutely crushed. He was so overwhelmed with grief that he set aside every Thursday to mourn his death. After some period of time, when he would see no one on that day, but wept and mourned and lamented the death of his son Willie, Dr. Francis Vinton, rector of Trinity Church, came down to Washington from New York. He was a friend of the family and was allowed in to see the President. Not wanting to beat around the bush, he told him it was not right to mourn thus over his son. He said, "Your son is alive in paradise with Christ, and you must not continue." Lincoln sat there as though he were in a stupor, and then his mind caught on to the words that Dr. Vinton had said, and he exclaimed, "Alive! Alive! Surely, sir, you mock me."

"No, Mr. President, it is a great doctrine of the church. Jesus himself said that God is not the God of the dead, but of the living." Lincoln leaped to his feet and threw his arms around this pastor. He wept openly and sobbed, saying, "Alive! Alive! My boy is alive!" From that day there began a change in Lincoln that even his wife Mary noticed. His religious views began to dramatically change. There is a remarkable letter that comes to us from an Illinois clergyman who talked to Lincoln after this time. He said this to Mr. Lincoln (Again, I commend him for his boldness): "Mr. President, do you love Jesus?"

After a long pause, Mr. Lincoln solemnly replied: "When I left Springfield I asked the people to pray for me. I was not a Christian. When I buried my son, the severest trial of my life, I was not a Christian. But when I went to Gettysburg and saw the graves of thousands of our soldiers, I then and there consecrated myself to Christ. Yes, I do love Jesus."

By the way, when I preached this sermon before, someone challenged that statement. Well, I would suggest they do what I do. Go to Washington. Go to Ford's Theater. Go across the street to the Lincoln Museum; ask for The Lincoln Memorial: Album-Immortelles in the O.H. Oldroyd Collection. The book was published in 1883, and the quote is found on page 366. But if you would rather not do all of that, then simply come to my study, and I will show you a photocopied page from that book on the stationery of the U.S. Federal Government Agency charged with caring for that museum. "Yes, I do love Jesus," Lincoln said.

Mr. Noah Brooks, sometime after that, longtime friend and newspaper correspondent, said, "I have had many conversations with Mr. Lincoln, which were more or less of a religious character, and while I never tried to draw anything like a statement of his views from him, yet he freely expressed himself to me as having a hope of blessed immortality through Jesus Christ." Lincoln said that he had found the peace that had eluded him all of his life.

"Therefore, being justified by faith" he now had peace with God. When a lady connected with the work of the Christian Commission later came to see him, he said: "I had lived until my boy Willie died without realizing fully these things [about the Gospel]. It showed me my weakness as I had never felt it before, and if I can take what you have stated [as to what a Christian is] as a test, I think I can safely say that I know something of that change of which you speak; [which is called the new birth, to which Lincoln alluded in that very speech: "that this country might have a new birth of freedom"], and I will further add, that it has been my intention for some time, at a suitable opportunity, to make a public religious profession."

Dr. Gurley was pastor of the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, which Lincoln attended regularly not only on Sunday morning but also on Wednesday night. One Wednesday night he sat in a little ante room right off the chancel with the door halfway open so that he would not disturb the worship of others, but that he might partake. Dr. Gurley said that Lincoln had wanted to make a public profession of his faith on Easter Sunday morning. But then came Ford's Theater.

He had just been elected for the second time six weeks before that. His spiritual understanding had matured greatly in the year and a half since Gettysburg. Every message was peppered with Scripture and spiritual insights. "His Second Inaugural Address is not only the most spiritual speech ever given by any statesman in the world," said one of England's leaders, "in my opinion, it is a far better sermon than most any I have ever heard preached in a pulpit." And I would include, most certainly, my own.

These words from his Second Inaugural Address are carved into the wall of the Lincoln Memorial: The Almighty has His own purposes.
"Woe unto the world because of offenses! For it must needs be that offenses come; but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh." If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war, as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope--fervently do we pray--that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said, "The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether." With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God give us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves, and with all nations.
Lincoln had been to Calvary. His heart and mind were changed. The last speech he gave three days before his death was one in which he said that he was submitting a proclamation for a national day of thanksgiving to God. He said, also, that now that the abomination of slavery was removed, the next point on the agenda would be to get rid of the curse of alcohol which had so plagued the land. In his last meeting with his Cabinet on that Thursday morning in opposition to strongly held opinions by some of his Cabinet members, he said: "There will be no recriminations against the South."

If he had lived, the history of postwar South would have been far different, indeed. His last act was to issue an edict that henceforth, on every coin would be printed the words: "In God We Trust." Lincoln had been to Calvary. That night he was invited to Ford's Theater to see a play he wasn't really interested in. He had received that very day the news that the war was over. He sat in his chair in the presidential box that was supposed to be guarded by a soldier. He had talked about the curse of liquor that plagued the land. That afternoon a man from the South crossed the street and went into a tavern and had a number of drinks. His name was John Wilkes Booth. That evening a soldier from the North left his post, crossed the same street and entered the same tavern to have a drink while the aforementioned actor quietly opened the unguarded door to the President's box and went in.

Lincoln was sitting up talking to his wife, not paying any attention to the play. He said, "Mary, do you know what I would like to do now? Now that the war is over, we could go to the Near East. [Booth stepped up behind the President] We could go to Bethlehem where He was born. We could visit Bethany where those hallowed steps were so often heard." [Booth pointed his gun at the back of Lincoln's head.] Lincoln continued, "And we could go up to Jeru.." BANG! . . . the maddest pistol shot in history rang forth.

Lincoln was carried across the street to a boarding house (which is now a museum) and laid diagonally across the bed that was too short for his huge frame. On the next day, Good Friday, he died. He was going to make his public profession on Easter Sunday. Secretary of War Stanton, when he looked down on that bed at his cold form, said, "Here lies the most perfect ruler of men that the world has ever known."

Lincoln had climbed Mount Calvary, and he had come to know the Savior. Walt Whitman concludes his great poem, "My Captain, My Captain," where he pictures Lincoln as the captain of the Ship of State which has come through a terrible storm and now lies upon the deck:
My captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still; My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will; The ship is anchored safe and sound, its voyage closed and done; From fearful trip, the victor ship, comes in with object won; Exult, O shores, and ring, O bells! But I, with mournful tread, Walk the deck my Captain lies, Fallen cold and dead.
But we cannot leave him lying there upon the deck of the Ship of State, for I would like to add one of my own: a fourth mountain that Lincoln climbed. Beyond Mount Calvary, the fourth was Mount Zion, where he went up to, not the Jerusalem in the Near East, but to the Jerusalem on high to the heavenly Jerusalem, taken there by Christ to whom he had consecrated his heart, and in whom he now trusted for his salvation. He had abandoned his trust in the commandments and in his own strivings, and now he trusted in Christ. Yes, dear friend, at long length, Abraham Lincoln was a Christian. Are you?

Prayer: "Heavenly Father, I pray that if there are any here who are still trusting in their ability to gain access into Thy heaven by keeping the commandments that they will see the utter folly of that. If there are any here who still suppose that by attempting to improve themselves they may make themselves acceptable to Thee who is of purer eyes than even to look upon iniquity, cause them to turn from trusting in themselves and to trust in Jesus Christ, who alone is their hope of eternal life that they, too, may go up to Jerusalem on high by consecrating their hearts and trusting their lives to Christ. In whose name we pray. Amen."

D. James Kennedy A.B., M.Div., M.Th., D.D., D.Sac.Lit., Ph.D., Litt.D., D.Sac.Theol., D.Humane Let.