Upheld

Two years ago, while our church celebrated our 60th anniversary, a pastor friend commented to me that throughout his ministry, there had only been a couple of years when he didn’t feel like it could all end tomorrow.

Sixty-two years ago, in a small living room on the corner of 29th and Adams, Berean Baptist Church of Ogden was born. From those humble beginnings, God has seen fit to uphold us until this day. Due to the current worldwide situation, we were extremely limited in what we could do to celebrate our anniversary yesterday. But I thought a few comments would be appropriate.

As part of our 60th-anniversary celebration, we recruited a young man to help us create a documentary about our church’s history. Pastor Nate Warren grew up in our church and now pastors a small church in Elwood, Indiana. Among other things, he is very talented in videography. He did an outstanding job helping us to record our story for our posterity.

When we set out to make this documentary, we definitely had our children in mind. We wanted to preserve this history for them so that they would know our story. We tried to get this done while some of our oldest members were still with us. We are so glad we did it when we did. A few short months after completing the documentary, one of the key figures in our church went home to be with the Lord. We are so grateful that we were able to record her testimony before she left us.

But once the documentary was completed, we thought we had something that could bless and encourage every Pastor. Let me explain.

The story of Berean Baptist Church is pretty amazing, all things considered. We aren’t a large church. We aren’t a famous church. We are an average-sized church in an average-sized city in America. Yet, God has seen fit to carry us through some unusually hard Providences through the years. In our first twelve years, we went through six different pastors. The longest any pastor stayed between the year of our founding in 1958 and 1970 was three years. One pastor stayed for three months.

In the late 1980s, we survived a devastating church split that followed, not surprisingly, on the tail of a building project. But again, God saw fit to Providentially preserve our church.

No doubt, the hardest Providence in our history came with 9-11. Two days after terrorists turned airliners into missiles to bring down the World Trade Center, our Pastor, who was visiting Fiji at the time, was swept out to sea and drowned. The story of how God worked through that time still amazes us.

We named our little documentary, “Upheld.” We believe that word captures the gracious way God’s sovereign hand has worked to sustain and preserve our church over these years. “Upheld” comes from one of our church’s favorite hymns: “How Firm a Foundation.”

Fear not, I am with thee, O be not dismayed, For I am thy God, and will still give thee aid; I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand, Upheld by My righteous, omnipotent hand.

Once we made the documentary, we felt very strongly that it could encourage other pastors. After all, ministry is warfare.  Trials and troubles are not unique to us.  God sustained our church in unique ways, but we are not uncommon in that regard.

We thought that you might enjoy seeing what God has done in our church, that it might encourage you in yours.  Churches have struggles and experience many setbacks.  It can be useful to hear how God has sustained others so that we can look forward to what God will do for us.

You probably won’t know many of the people in our story. And since we don’t have a famous church, you might not be all that interested in our history. But we think that if you take the hour or so to watch this documentary, our story might encourage you that God can uphold you too.

A sparrow cannot fall to the ground without God’s notice. A small church might be comparable to a sparrow – unknown, humble, obscure, in some ways the off-scouring of all things. Yet God is big enough to care about the small stuff, to hold the sparrows in His righteous, omnipotent hand.

I hope you will consider viewing this history. We don’t publish it so we can be famous. We like it just fine outside the spotlight. But we want to encourage you with what God can do. Our history is, ultimately, the history of every church. We all face trials and triumphs, crushing disappointments and uplifting victories. Our history is not the story of extraordinary people. It is the story of ordinary Christians with an extraordinary God.

In many ways, we have gone along for the ride. God has carried us through some stormy seas. He has sustained us and upheld us, and we want this documentary to be our expression of gratitude for all he has done. What God has done for us, we are very confident He will do for you too.

Dear Christian Friend

I’m not trying to add to all the angst I see on the Internet. I get it that everyone is frustrated. We really aren’t used to these sorts of disruptions to our lives, and judging by all the whining and complaining and outrage I have witnessed, we really aren’t in shape for it. So, you might see this as some form of virtue-signaling or pious something-or-other, but I want to risk alienating a few friends so I can use my gift of slaps for those who need one right now.
 
First, I have seen the first amendment posted on Facebook a lot lately. I am happy that you love the first amendment. I love it too. But if you think all the travel bans and stay in location orders and gathering restrictions violate the first amendment, let me remind you that we have a court system for that very reason, to protect our constitutional rights.
 
But before you rush out to hire an attorney and fight this in court, let me save you a little money. States rushed to declare a “state of emergency” before this pandemic really even got going because, by law, emergency powers give the states the ability to put all kinds of restrictions in place – unconstitutional limits included. Most states have laws in place that provide them with this power. I don’t like it, and you shouldn’t like it. But that is the reality of this situation. Before you hire a lawyer and take it to court, understand that our courts would most likely uphold the emergency powers that our states have claimed. In other words, these laws probably will withstand a constitutional challenge.
 
If you don’t like the power that a “state of emergency” gives your Governor or local authorities, I would recommend that you do something to change the law. Over the years, I have heard many excuses Christians make for not being involved in politics. You are too busy, politics isn’t a place for Christians, and so on. I understand if you don’t like to be involved. But, this sort of thing is the result of Christians withdrawing from the public arena and then demonstrating their ignorance of these things when they happen.
 
My suggestion? Sometime after this is over, you might consider contacting your legislator (I hope you at least know his or her name) and let them know what you would like to see done in the future. I believe there ought to be more restraint. You might be interested to know that some states have moved to protect second amendment rights in a time of emergency. Why not try to ensure that first amendment rights receive equal protection? Consider writing some letters or helping craft some legislation that addresses your frustrations. As Americans, we really do have a great system, but it only works if we get involved.
 
Now, let me turn to something a little more spiritual, for the sake of those who think me too pious. I get it that everyone is frustrated, irritated, perhaps even outraged. Some are worried, some afraid. But I would love to see a more Scriptural response to this. Much of the angst and outrage I have seen on Facebook has come from my Christian friends. But Christians, God did not leave us without instruction when times like these come along. Let me remind you, God calls for two things from his people: consider yourself and turn to the Lord.
 
Yes, in times of calamity, the first thing God wants from His people is repentance. I shouldn’t need to give Scripture references for this one, because the Bible reminds us of this repeatedly.   
…if I send pestilence among my people; If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.
Consider yourself, Christian.  Have you grown cold towards the Lord or the things of God?  Have you grown worldly in your outlook?  Are your loyalties divided?  What has your attitude been in this calamity? Have you been thankful? Joyful? Full of peace and hope and encouragement? Consider your ways.
Then, turn to the Lord.  There are about five ways that I would urge you to do this – no doubt there could be more – but these make a good starting point.
Turn to the Lord in worship.  Turn your heart, your focus, your adoration back to God.  Humble yourself before Him.  Be amazed by Him.  Could I point something out to you?  Not more than two months ago, our President stood before a joint session of Congress in the presence of the American people and proclaimed that our economy was the greatest in history. How’s that looking now?  What happened?  Regardless of who you might blame for our troubles, hasn’t God shown Himself to be mighty?
We have no assurance that our economy will recover from this.  We certainly hope it will, but we cannot be sure.  In a matter of a couple of weeks, God brought it all to a screeching halt. Isn’t God awesome?  I do not use that word frivolously either. “Awesome” is the best word to describe the magnificence of Almighty God.
Turn to the Lord in thanksgiving.  The Bible teaches us,
In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.
I haven’t seen much in the way of thanksgiving on Facebook.  I have seen much in the form of whining, complaining, and outrage.  But Christian, let me ask you: what are you thankful for in this inconvenience?  What are you grateful for amid this coronavirus?  It would be a sad thing if, in any situation, we could find nothing to thank God for.  It is His will that you give thanks in everything, and this coronapanic is part of that everything.
Turn to the Lord in rejoicing.  The joy of the Lord is your strength, believer.  Can you rejoice in hard times?  I struggle to hear you praise God in good times if you can’t praise Him in the bad.  Rejoice evermore.  Rejoice in the Lord alway!
Turn to the Lord in giving.  Let your joy in your affliction overflow into generosity.  Be sure to maintain your support for local church missions, your local church, those who lose their jobs in this crisis, and those who struggle and suffer at this time. This is what the Apostle Paul referred to when he said,
Moreover, brethren, we do you to wit of the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia; How that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality (2 Corinthians 8:1-2).
Turn to the Lord in prayer.  Pray for your elected leaders during this time.  Times like these call for special prayer for our elected leaders.
I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; (I Timothy 2:1-3)
Pray for your pastor.  Pray for your fellow Christians, your fellow church members.  Pray for your unsaved friends.  Pray fervently.  Pray without ceasing.

The coronavirus has made it difficult for us to lead that quiet and peaceable life in all godliness.  For the first time in my life, our government has branded church services as non-essential, restricting the size of our meetings.  In many places, liquor stores and abortion clinics remain open, while churches cannot gather.  This is not a good thing. But this explains why we must pray at all times for our rulers and those who are in authority.  I won’t ask for a show of hands (or a thumbs up) of how many have been praying for our elected leaders.  I will only remind you that this is a Christian duty.

In times like these, we must return to those things that God has called us to do.  Judging by what I have seen and heard recently, on Facebook and other places, we are not in the right mind for sharing the good news with the lost.  Admittedly, Facebook might not be the best gauge of these things. Still, I would remind everyone that the things we post in this medium are the things that the world sees about us.  And they reveal what is going on in our hearts. I hope that everyone will let their joy abound in this time, and their light shine.  And may many who are lost and desperate for hope find grace and help in this time.

May you all be blessed in these trying hours.

 

Martin Rinkart’s Thanksgiving

Martin Rinkart knew a thing or two about thanksgiving.  He was just 31 years old when he became pastor of the Lutheran Church in his hometown of Eilenburg, Saxony.  A year later, one of Europe’s deadliest wars broke out.  During the years from 1618 to 1648, more than 8 million people died in what historians refer to as the Thirty Years’ War.  For more than a decade, Eilenburg avoided direct involvement in the war, but by 1631, the war moved to the city.  Sometime in 1636, according to historians, Martin Rinkart penned the words to the thanksgiving hymn Nun Danket Alle Gott – “Now Thank We All Our God.” The next year brought the greatest devastation of the war to the city.  Thousands fled the war, and Eilenburg became a place of refuge.  But in 1637, overcrowded conditions and the devastation of war brought famine and plague to the city.  During that one year alone, 8,000 souls were lost.

At the beginning of 1637, four pastors served the city of Eilenburg.  Soon after the plague struck, one of those pastors abandoned his post and fled to safer regions.  As the death toll mounted, Pastor Rinkart and the remaining two pastors conducted sometimes as many as 40-50 funerals in a day.  Then the two other pastors died.  Pastor Rinkart, sound in body but no doubt suffering in spirit, was left alone to deal with the dead and dying.  Over the course of that year, Martin Rinkart conducted more than 4,000 funerals.  Then, his own wife died.  By the end of the year, with no suitable burial ground remaining, the city of Eilenburg was forced to dig trenches to bury the dead.

Despite his grief, in the face of such extreme suffering and starvation, Martin Rinkart remained steadfast.  He organized efforts to feed the hungry, opened his own home to provide refuge for those in need, gave away his own wealth and all the provision not needed by his own hungry family, and faithfully served Christ and His people.

The story is told that towards the end of the Thirty Years’ War, the Swedish army surrounded Eilenburg and demanded a huge ransom in exchange for an end to the siege.  The tribute required much more money than the devastated city could ever possibly afford.  Some have said that Martin Rinkart led a delegation to the Swedish general to plead for mercy.  When the Swedes refused, Rinkart turned to the delegation and said, “Come, my children, we can find no hearing, no mercy with men; let us take refuge with God.”  Then, falling to his knees, Martin Rinkart pleaded with God for his people.  Seeing his passion, the Swedish general relented, reducing the tribute to an affordable amount.

Out of the depth of such extreme suffering came a song that continues to be a classic thanksgiving hymn nearly 4 centuries later.  “Now Thank We All our God” stands as a lasting testimony to the triumph of joy and the faith of the believer in the face of hard trials.

The Apostle Paul said of the Macedonian believers that

…in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality. (2 Corinthians 8:2)

True Christian joy can only be a work of the Holy Spirit in the heart of the believer.  There can be no other explanation for it.  We do not say that extreme sorrow or suffering is necessary for fullness of joy.  Where the Holy Spirit indwells the human heart, joy will be evidently present.  Great trials of affliction do not produce joy.  They are not necessary for joy.  But they do cause our joy to shine.  They make our joy evident.

How else can we explain the way joy lifts us up and causes us to triumph in the face of great trial and affliction?  How else can we understand the way joy overflows out of the cup of our sorrows, so that it seems the deeper the sorrow, the greater the joy.  When weeping endures for a night, joy comes in the morning.  Joy outlasts our sorrows.  When pain and sorrow weighs us down, joy outweighs our afflictions and lifts us above them.  Joy is a display of the power of God in the life of the believer to give him happiness when happiness is the last thing anyone would expect.

If we can only be thankful on warm, sunny days with favorable winds at our backs, then we need to learn the lesson of thanksgiving.

By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name. (Hebrews 13:15)

 

Now Thank We All Our God

Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things has done, in Whom this world rejoices;
Who from our mothers’ arms has blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.

Oh, may this bounteous God through all our life be near us,
With ever joyful hearts and blessed peace to cheer us;
And keep us in His grace, and guide us when perplexed;
And guard us through all ills in this world, till the next!

All praise and thanks to God the Father now be given,
The Son, and Him Who reigns with Them in highest Heaven—
The one eternal God, Whom earth and Heav’n adore;
For thus it was, is now, and shall be evermore.