First Day

June 1st, 1990. The date is forever etched in my memory. We had earlier gotten a call from a man named Vic in Astoria, regarding the need for someone to fill the pulpit at his church. In a thick Norwegian accent he used two messages on the message machine to relay the details. I called him back and agreed to be there the upcoming Sunday.

On that particular Sunday we loaded our three kids in the car and made the two hour trip from Columbia City to Astoria. Upon our arrival I noted that the previous pastor was at the parsonage, packing up his vehicles to move away. I would later learn that he was one of four pastors that had served in the precious decade, and that the church had a reputation for being a “difficult” ministry for pastors.

We made our way to the sanctuary…that huge sanctuary…and found the place mostly empty. There were a dozen people there. They greeted us. We sang some songs and I preached way too fast from Colossians chapter one on the supremacy of Christ.

A couple of things are stuck in my memory from that day. There was some sadness in the air. Another pastor was leaving the place. A new pastor has come. The people were no doubt thinking, “How long will this one last?”

In addition to that, one couldn’t help but notice that the building wasn’t yet finished, though it had been built in 1974, and that the building and yards looked uncared for. Later we would face the reality of trying to care for that place with a monthly budget of about $1000 per month.

All that being said, I did not doubt as we left on that day that God had called us to serve at Lewis and Clark Bible Church. Two months later we were called by the church to serve. And we stayed there for 27 and 1/2 years.

So what happened? God, the One who is the very best at fixing things, turned things around. Those folks, discouraged as they were on that first Sunday, became so incredibly dear to us. Bickering and strife gave way to unity and cooperation and teamwork. That woefully deficient budget, gave way to God’s plentiful provision. Especially once we began to expend ourselves in service to our good friends in Uganda. God used a big storm, which ultimately cost $900,000 in insurance repairs, to finish and remodel that church building. And when I retired, in 2018, we left behind a wonderful church family, possessing much love for Jesus and for one another.

How did it happen? I could speak to various things like commitment to the Word, or the quality of the leadership, or the servant-mindedness of the people, etc., but the bottom line and the truth of the matter is, it happened by grace, God’s grace. His grace was more than abundant.

Before that June 1st Sunday, two men, Vic Albertsen and Jim Thompson, had met to pray. They feared they would have to close the church, but they didn’t want to do that. So they prayed that God would somehow intervene. And He did. And that’s the rest of the story. The Bible says “God gives grace to the humble, ” and so He did. And so He does!

BOOK REVIEW: “Fearless: The Undaunted Courage and Ultimate Sacrifice of Navy Seal Team Six Operator Adam Brown.” By Eric Blehm

This book is the true story of a Navy Seal by the name of Adam Brown.  Adam grew up in small town Arkansas.  He played football for his high school team, and was a fierce competitor.  He had a lot of friends.  He graduated from high school and headed off to college.  But found he didn’t have much appetite for academics.  He came back home and worked for his Dad who had an electrical company.  But then he met a girl.  And this girl had a drug problem.  And she drug Adam right along into it.  He was doing all kinds of drugs, including Meth.  He would be gone overnight and sometimes for days.  His drug habit got real expensive, so he stole from his Dad’s company.  On one occasion he ran off with the company’s van.  And this went on for some time.  And his Mom and Dad loved him, as did his twin-sister and older-brother, but there was seemingly nothing they could do to stop Adam from his downward spiral.  They feared for his life.  Adam was totally given over to his sinful pursuits.  And he didn’t care at all about anyone else.  It mattered not the he was breaking the hearts of his parents.  His twin sister loved him, but he was oblivious to her concerns.  He was completely self-absorbed and utterly lost.

Then Mom and Dad decided to go to church. And they talked to the pastor. And they were saved. And they began praying for their son. They called the sheriff—there was a warrant for Adam’s arrest—and had Adam arrested. The pastor went and visited him. And the court made a deal with Adam—go to a Christian treatment program, for a year, and you won’t have to stay in jail. And so he did. And somewhere along the way, Adam trusted in Jesus. But that wasn’t the end of his drug issues. Meth is especially hard to stay away from. And he sometimes went back to it. He met a young lady. A Christian young lady. And she began to pray for him. And she got to know him. And she would intervene whenever he was tempted to go back to drugs. They got married. And Adam decided to join the Navy. He had seen the movie “Navy Seals” as a boy and had ever since carried that thought of being a seal. A friend’s Dad, a Navy man, worked to get some waivers approved. And Adam joined the Navy to become a Navy Seal. And he passed all of the rigorous training. And by this time, Adam has grown in his walk with Christ. He is a loving husband. A child comes along. And then another. He is a loving father. Despite some serious injuries, Adam excels as a seal and is counted among an elite group in the top one percent of all of the seals. He serves in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is known for his willingness to put himself in harm’s way for the sake of his fellow soldiers. When he’s in Afghanistan he sees that there are many children without shoes. So he calls his pastor in the US, and they ship hundreds of shoes to Adam. When his fellows walked with him, they carried weapons, he carried shoes—and he would give them away to children who didn’t have any. He would also carry MREs with him, and would give them away to hungry children.

It was about time for his Navy career to be over.  He had one last mission he was called to perform.  His task force was called to enter into a particularly dangerous and mountainous region.  They were going after a man who had led a team of Taliban rebels who had been responsible for the death of many Americans.  The team arrived at his holdout.  And much shooting ensued.  And there came a point where someone had to go to a particular spot where a man was firing from a window at the team.  Adam volunteered.  He put himself in harm’s way to protect his teammates.  And he was mortally wounded.  And Adam died.  He had been asked, before that day, how he was able to approach such situations with such fearlessness.  You know what his response was?  It was his faith in the Risen Christ that made the difference for him.  Adam walked with Jesus.  And as he did, he lived that kind of life.  I read that book and cried.  And I also rejoiced.  I rejoiced in the truth of what Jesus Christ did in that man’s life.  He rescued him from his sinful and selfish and bankrupt existence, and made something very beautiful of his life.  It should come as no surprise to you that Adam’s example worked to encourage other Seals to put their faith in Jesus Christ.

The book tells a great story of how God intervened in the life of a troubled and needy soul and saved him and set his life on a better course.  There is much encouragement here for the drug addicted and those who pray for them.  I highly recommend it.

TURN YOUR EYES UPON JESUS: The Story Behind the Hymn

Lilias Trotter (1853-1928) grew up in a wealthy London family and could have been a world-famous artist.  Her mother recognized her exceptional talent and sent some of her drawings to a world-renowned art critic, John Ruskin.  Together with her Mom, Lilias made a trip to Venice and spent some with John.  He told her that if she devoted herself to her art “she would be the greatest living painter and do things that would be immortal.”  But it was not to be.

Both Lilias and her Mom had responded to the gospel during the London campaign meetings of Dwight L. Moody.  Though drawn to the prospect of life as an artist, Lilias decided that she could not do that and continue still to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.”  She became active instead in the YWCA and began a ministry to prostitutes, fearlessly canvassing the streets of London and trying to rescue them from their plight.  In 1884, suffering from physical and emotional exhaustion, she underwent surgery.  Her heart was permanently damaged in the process.

During the next few years, she began to sense a call to missions and ultimately responded to a plea for workers in North Africa.  She applied to the North Africa Mission but was rejected due to her poor health.  The mission though ultimately decided—since she had the means to support herself–that she could go and work with others without being an official member.

Nine months later Lilias and two other financially independent women made the trip.  Trotter wrote of that experience, “Three of us stood there, looking at our battle-field, none of us fit to pass a doctor for any society, not knowing a soul in the place, or a sentence of Arabic or a clue for beginning work on untouched ground; we only knew we had to come.  Truly if God needed weakness, He had it!”

Ultimately she served as a missionary to Algeria for 38 years.  The ministry was difficult.  Converts were banished and sometimes beaten, some died.  Undeterred by poor health and much opposition, her ministry in Algeria eventually grew to include thirty full time workers and fifteen preaching stations.

She did a lot of writing and once wrote a little treatise entitled “Focused: A Story and a Song” which concluded with these words: “Turn full your soul’s vision to Jesus, and look and look at Him, and a strange dimness will come over all that is apart from Him…For “He is worthy” to have all there is to be had in the heart that He has died to win.”

Helen Lemmel (1863-1961) was also born in England, but her family migrated to America when she was 12 years old.  Her singing ability soon became evident.  She traveled broadly throughout the Midwest during the early 1900s giving concerts in churches.  She married a wealthy European and taught voice at the Moody Bible Institute and at BIOLA.  She composed over 500 hymns and poems and authored a highly successful book for children.  But when she became blind her husband abandoned her. 

One day, in 1918, when Helen was aged 55, a missionary friend gave her Lilias Trotter’s tract entitled “Focused.”  Her attention focused on this line: “Turn full your soul’s vision to Jesus, and look and look at Him, and a strange dimness will come over all that is apart from Him.”  She wrote of what happened next: “Suddenly, as if commanded to stop and listen, I stood still, and singing in my soul and spirit was the chorus of the hymn with not one conscious moment of putting word to word to make rhyme, or note to note to make melody.”  So, she wrote the hymn “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus” (one of my favorite hymns). 

“O soul, are you weary and troubled?

No light in the darkness you see?

There’s light for a look at the Savior,

And life more abundant and free.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,

Look full in His wonderful face,

And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,

In the light of His glory and grace.”

 

Those words, “turn your eyes upon Jesus,” speak to the great need and God-given purpose for every soul.  Weary and troubled souls can find true solace and lasting hope in the One who died for sins and rose from the dead.  In fixing her eyes on Jesus, Lilias Trotter forsook the dream of becoming a world-famous artist to do something of far greater and eternal consequence.  Though blind, Helen Lemmel was not prevented from turning her spiritual eyes upon the One who would never forsake her.

“Oh soul, are you weary and troubled?” Who isn’t from time to time? Is there one who can comfort us? Is there one who can capture our hearts and set them aright on a good and prosperous course? Jesus can do all that and more. There is an insightful comment in Lilias’ treatise that caught my attention. She wrote, “It is worthwhile to let God see what He can do with these lives of ours, when ‘to live is Christ.’ How do we bring things to a focus in the world of optics? Not by looking at the things to be dropped, but by looking at the one point that is to be brought out.” In other words, the key to serving Jesus with a “but one thing I do” attitude is not focusing on what we must give up, but by gazing instead on the beauty of the object of our attention (and affection). In this dark and trouble-filled world, may the Spirit work within us that our gaze might be directed to Jesus and the light of HIs glory and grace (Cf. John 16:14). Or, as another hymn puts it: “Thou hast bid me gaze upon Thee, And Thy beauty fills my soul, For by Thy transforming power, Thou hast made me whole” (“Jesus, I Am Resting, Resting;” Text: Jean S. Pigott; Music: James Mountain).

ONLY ONE LIFE – By C. T. Studd

Two little lines I heard one day,

Traveling along life’s busy way;

Bringing conviction to my heart,

And from my mind would not depart;

Only one life, ’twill soon be past, 

Only what’s done for Christ will last.

 

Only one life, yes only one,

Soon will its fleeting hours be done;

Then, in ‘that day’ my Lord to meet,

And stand before His Judgement seat;

Only one life,’twill soon be past,

Only what’s done for Christ will last.

 

Only one life, the still small voice,

Gently pleads for a better choice

Bidding me selfish aims to leave,

And to God’s holy will to cleave;

Only one life, ’twill soon be past,

Only what’s done for Christ will last.

 

Only one life, a few brief years,

Each with its burdens, hopes, and fears;

Each with its clays I must fulfill,

living for self or in His will;

Only one life, ’twill soon be past,

Only what’s done for Christ will last.

 

When this bright world would tempt me sore,

When Satan would a victory score;

When self would seek to have its way,

Then help me Lord with joy to say;

Only one life, ’twill soon be past,

Only what’s done for Christ will last.

 

Give me Father, a purpose deep,

In joy or sorrow Thy word to keep;

Faithful and true what e’er the strife,

Pleasing Thee in my daily life;

Only one life, ’twill soon be past,

Only what’s done for Christ will last.

 

Oh let my love with fervor burn,

And from the world now let me turn;

Living for Thee, and Thee alone,

Bringing Thee pleasure on Thy throne;

Only one life, ’twill soon be past,

Only what’s done for Christ will last.

 

Only one life, yes only one,

Now let me say,”Thy will be done”;

And when at last I’ll hear the call,

I know I’ll say “twas worth it all”;

Only one life,’twill soon be past,

Only what’s done for Christ will last.

UPSIDE DOWN WORLD

Acts 17:6, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also.”

The context of this declaration was the visit of Paul and Silas to the city of Thessalonica.  The city was about 94 miles from where they had been in Philippi.  It was the capital of Macedonia and the most prosperous of its cities.  As with other places in the region, the Gentiles of that city were given to idolatry (Cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:9).  Because of its central location the city served as a valuable epicenter from which to spread the gospel.  Paul would later say of the church there, “For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere” (1 Thessalonians 1:8).

Paul and Silas came to Thessalonica and spent three Sabbath days in a synagogue reasoning with the Jews from the Scriptures, “explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead” (Acts 17:3).  Some of the Jews were persuaded by his arguments and joined them.  A “great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women” also believed (Acts 17:4).  “But the Jews were jealous and taking some wicked men of the rabble, they formed a mob, set the city in an uproar, and attacked the house of Jason, seeking to bring them out to the crowd.  And when they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city authorities, shouting, ‘These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also’” (Acts 17:5-6).

The men said what they did in a derisive way.  It was an accusation meant to trouble Paul and Silas before the civil authorities, but there was truth to it—they had indeed “turned the world upside down.”  J. Vernon McGee said of their statement, “Now don’t put that down as an oratorical gesture or hyperbole.  When they said that these men were turning the world upside down, that is exactly what they meant.  When Christianity penetrated that old Roman Empire, it was a revolution.  It had a tremendous effect.”

And, of course, it wasn’t ultimately the men themselves who were doing it, it was the Holy Spirit and the message of the gospel He empowered them to proclaim.  It was the Risen Christ who was at work radically transforming the lives of those who placed their faith in Him.  The revolution was changing everything.  Slaves to sin were being set free.  Rebellious idolaters were being transformed into worshippers.  By the Spirit, people’s hearts were being filled with hope and love.  Jews and Gentiles were harmoniously working together in a common cause.  Lives, cities, and regions were being impacted.  The revolution would grow to such an extent that the emperor himself would be threatened by it.

The gospel has such an effect on people.  And it is a positive thing.  The world has been askew ever since Adam’s fall.  Created by God, man was made to “glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”  But sin has altered man’s gyroscope and he has lost his bearing.  Christ died and rose again that He might put things back in order.  As A. W. Tozer once said, “Why did Christ come?  Why was he conceived?  Why was he born?  Why was he crucified?  Why did he rise again?  Why is he now at the right hand of the Father?  The answer to all these questions is, ‘in order that he might make worshipers out of rebels; in order that he might restore us again to the place of worship we knew when we were first created.”  (A. W. Tozer; “Worship: The Missing Jewel”).

For 2000 years since that gospel has been turning things right side up in the lives of those who trust in Jesus. And through the history of the church, it has done so whenever and wherever it has been proclaimed. The Protestant Reformation worked to put the Word of God and the gospel into the hands of the common people and a spiritual revolution ensued. The gospel preached in the Great Awakening worked to alter the course of history. To this day, in places ‘round the world, upside down people are being reoriented through that same message that Paul and Silas proclaimed so long ago. The world is upside-down, the gospel alone has the power to put things in their proper order (Cf. Romans 1:16-32; 2 Timothy 3:1–17).