Monday, December 26, 2005

Making The Most Of Our Time

Be careful how you walk, using wisdom, making the most of your time, because each day has its distractions. – Ephesians 5:15-16 (BRV)

Each year at this time, many of us review what happened during the year. We recount the events in newsletters and diaries or just in discussions around the table. The centerpiece of the discussion is usually around those who are no longer with us – specifically those who were with us last year, but have since died.

Last year at this time, Eric’s Uncle Rodney after having discovered he had cancer and had begun the process of fighting a tumor in his brain by having it removed and nearly died in surgery. He bounced back and we did everything we could to make his Thanksgiving and Christmas a special time in 2004. Even though there was speculation about it, 2004 turned out to be his last Christmas – he died in October of this year on the cusp of the holiday season. How many Christmases do you have left?

Scientifically speaking – from the moment of your birth, your body begins to decay. In the early cycle of your years, growth occurs as the cells of your body die off and new ones take their place. It does not seem like death because cells are being made faster and in higher quantity than they are dying. But when the maturation process is completed at somewhere around thirty years, growth stops and a slow decline of powers begins its campaign to finally release the soul from bondage to the body. Diet and exercise can help the process take longer, but eventually death comes for all.

I read a story this week about a missionary name Jim Elliot. I actually learned about him when I was in college. His wife, Elisabeth, spoke at a missionary conference I attended in 1967 in Urbana, Illinois. Jim had a call on his life to be a missionary. The urgency he felt gripped his spirit and his zeal was apparent to everyone who knew him in those days. The Holy Spirit directed him toward South America and when the opportunity arose to join a mission team in Ecuador, he set sail in 1952 and stayed in Quito for six months mastering Spanish. He learned of the Auca Indian tribe – a group isolated in the jungles that had never been given the opportunity to hear the gospel. Jim’s response was, ‘why should he tell people who have heard the message two or more times, when he could be telling people who have never even heard it once?’ Trouble was that this tribe of Indians was unfriendly and dangerous. Every known white person that had come in contact with them was either missing or dead. Jim and his friends remained unchanged from their determination by this information.

In 1953 Jim set up camp in an abandoned oil rig station near where the Aucas lived and began a campaign to show them his friendship – for two years Jim and the other missionaries dropped food and provisions by air into the Auca camp including their pictures so that when they went in, the Aucas would know who they were. After several encounters with tribal members, Jim felt they were ready. They prayed together and ask for the Lord’s protection. After singing the hymn, “We Rest On Thee,” they radioed their wives they were going in and the five men went out to meet the Aucas in January of 1956. They were speared to death. Jim was 29 years old.

If you knew how long you had left, would you change anything in your life from what you are doing now? Would you live your life any differently? In Rodney’s case, the disease swept his ability to do much of anything different away from him. He could only focus on survival in his time left and he did not have much, if any, time to look at making changes to his lifestyle.

The Bible says that our days are numbered. There is a day appointed for each of us – a time to live and a time to die. We do not know when our last breath will be taken. Death can come slowly or quickly – but we are never certain which breath will be our last. We at least know that after this Christmas we’ll have one less Christmas to celebrate than we did before it passed. Christmas is a time of celebration – a time of worship. We should see it as an opportunity to show how much we love our Savior – and we only have so many Christmases left. Each Sunday services are held to worship with God’s people. It comes around each week, but we only have so many Sundays left in our lifetime. Each one is an opportunity that may not present itself again. How much do you need to know to change your course? Your days are numbered and the time is short.

At Christmastime seems like we are plagued with the telling and retelling of the Dickens classic, A Christmas Carol – how Ebeneezar Scrooge got reformed of his selfishness in one night after a visitation of ghosts. The ghosts opened his eyes to the error of his ways by showing him the past, present and future and how his behavior affected what was, is and will be. Ebeneezar repented and changed his ways. Instead of a crotchety old miser, he became a much loved, benevolent old gentleman and spread happiness wherever he was. Ebeneezar seized the moment of opportunity and became a better man.

One of Jim Elliot’s sayings was, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” After Jim’s death, Elisabeth Elliot, his wife, later went into the jungle and met up with the Auca tribe herself. The very individuals responsible for the death of her husband and the others heard the gospel message. They were converted and received Christ. She later published a book telling about these events named after a phrase in the hymn, “We Rest On Thee,” – The Gates Of Splendor.

A song that I have often signed is called “For Such A Time As This.” It begins with these words:

Now! All I have is now, to be faithful; to be holy; and to shine lighting up the darkness. Right now, I really have no choice, but to voice the truth to the nations.

The truth is – the only day we can be certain of is today – and it’s not over. As the scripture says: "TODAY IF YOU HEAR HIS VOICE, DO NOT HARDEN YOUR HEARTS." Now is all any of us really has. You don’t have much time. Is your task finished? Have you completed your orders? Are you ready to crossover? What do you need to accomplish before the time comes? What are you doing to finish the course so that you might walk into the presence of the Lord and hear Him say, “Well done good and faithful servant!

Rev. Bob Ellis

Friday, December 23, 2005

Checking Up On Myself

I have an acquaintance who is a pastor at a Baptist church here in Dallas. I only know him because we worked at the same place together and were even on the same team for a while. I was inwardly a little shocked when I found out he was a pastor. I would never have picked him out as even a church leader because he was not very outgoing - seemed kind of shy and a little bit withdrawn. I always thought pastors were friendly and people oriented; and showed interest in others. But he never did that - at least not with me. When this sort thing happens; and people are unfriendly toward me, I have always concluded that their unfriendliness was the result of some kind of discrimination - wrong hair color, skin color; wrong gender. Any of these might have been the issue that kept this pastor from being friendly toward me - I don't know what it was. I just found it odd that he was not at least curious about who I was and what I was about.

Then, I realized that he had gotten a dose of what I was about. Someone he had talked to, had told him things about me that had formed his initial impression of who I was and what I was like. And without his own firsthand examination - he had categorized me and put me into his files under the label he had prepared on the basis of what he had heard. My reaction to this treatment was a certain amount of hurt. Now no one gets used to being rejected, but you would think with as much experience as I have had with that emotion that I would be used to it - but to me it is like the first time every time it comes; and especially from God's people. It grieves me. I guess I expect more from them who, supposedly after "humbly" receiving grace (undeserved favor) from God, snub others. Shouldn't they turn around and give that same grace treatment to others? To protect my back I let judgment set in. I then categorize, label and file that person under "Pharisee" and go on.

Then I got to thinking - "How does that make me any different from him?" The answer of course is that it doesn't - it makes me just like him. I am no different than the Pharisees I so disdain.

When we walk with Jesus (if we truly walk with him) there is no time to create such a filing system. These kind of filing systems require extensive attention; filing is tedious work, the chests get heavier and heavier each day from the weight of the paper they contain. Lugging them around while walking with Jesus is not only against the character and work of our Lord, it's impractical. You might think the way to go is electronic. That way you don't have the hard copies to drag around - it's all in a database. But filing electronically while certainly more compact, is nearly as tedious. No, truthfully the business of walking with Jesus is incompatible with record keeping. Paul said it in 1 Corinthians 13:5, Love "does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered."

The ministry of Jesus was and is "love!" As ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ, we must love others. In order to love others, we must first love ourselves. But in order to love ourselves, we must first receive His love for us - without all of these steps - we are doomed to be Pharisees. All we have without love is selfishness - and the seed of selfishness breeds contempt in those it is sown. In Jesus we have the foremost example of selflessness, therefore those who would follow Him and certainly those who claim to represent Him here on this earth - who claim to have inherited His ministry must also walk in selflessness. Categorizing, labeling and filing must cease. We don't need it. For now there is "no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death." Now, the requirement of the Mosaic Law can be fulfilled in those, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (See Romans 8:1-2, 4) If God Himself does not keep records of the offenses against Him - who are we that we should keep accounts of wrongdoings against us?

Rev. Bob Ellis

Friday, December 09, 2005

Examining The Roots Of My Faith

I was raised in a "Christian home." My parents had been "born again" as adults. They had both been raised in a very liberal Methodism where apparently they had never heard or understood that it was not just church attendance that made you Christian, but it was personal acceptance of Christ that made one His true follower. After attending a home Bible study they had been invited to by friends, they both became convicted that they needed personal faith in Christ. A short time later they both had conversion experiences. After receiving Jesus into their hearts by faith, they were born again and were baptized in a swimming pool near Denton, Texas in 1950 something. I remember watching from the poolside as my parents were immersed by the pastor of our church, Alden Gannett.

This fresh newfound faith was the atmosphere into which I was raised. One evening at bedtime prayers my mother presented me with the option to receive Christ into my heart. So when I was only four years old and I did receive Him and He has been with me ever since - now 54 years. I was taught that the Bible was the infallible word of God and walked in that precept for many years - but then my faith took a turn when I began to see the fallacies and inconsistencies in the scriptures. Until then, my faith was based on the accuracy of the text, but something changed.

All along my faith has been experiential. God has not been with me all these years because I believe the right doctrines and always confess the right words. It is only because He is faithful and true and I know Him as a personal friend. His love has filled me with the joy in which I now stand. Nothing can ever remove the love we share. Recently an interview on the radio caught my attention - the interview was conducted by Diane Rehm with Bart Ehrman, who is a professor of Biblical studies at the University of North Carolina. I normally give little attention to intellectual discussions I see on TV or hear on the radio because they are not dealing with faith issues - they are only dealing in the intellect - scientific issues. This is why I see no conflict with Darwinian theory and my faith. To me, that whole debate is asinine. My faith has nothing to do with scientific discovery - but it also has nothing to do with whether the Bible is accurate or infallible.

Dr. Ehrman's credentials were impressive. What caught my attention was description of his own conversion experience - how through Campus Crusade for Christ he was introduced to the evangelical brand of Christianity and then he attended Wheaton College, a noted conservative fundamentalist evangelical Christian college in Illinois. He then proceeded to further educate himself at Princeton Theological Seminary where he received his doctorate. He explained on Diane's show that after studying and learning the scientific evidence behind the New Testament scriptures that he now described himself as a happy agnostic. This caught my attention. I recognized the lingo he used. He spoke "Christianeze" fluently. It was clear that he had had a "conversion" experience when he was college age. According to my belief system, if he truly accepted Christ into his heart back then, he remains a Christian now. But I think there are many so-called Christians that like Dr. Ehrman, who received a "papier-mâché faith" - and at the least little spark of controversy or critique or criticism, it bursts into flames and disappears into a puff of smoke.

My faith is an experience. It is about the God who is there - Jehovah Shammah (Ezekiel 48:35) Faith built on the externals such as people and things will ultimately crumble under the scrutiny of time or at the challenge by any other ism. But faith built on experience, an encounter with the God who is there can never be denied. Moses always remembered the burning bush. He knew, no matter who questioned it, that God spoke to him that day on Mount Horeb - even though he could not necessarily convince others, he knew. Originally I came to understand my faith based on the infallible word of God - but now I know that the scriptures only provided the road map to Mount Horeb where Jehovah Shammah introduced Himself to me 54 years ago. The accuracy or inaccuracy of those words cannot refute the experiential knowledge of the Holy that I have. For me the Word of God is not a book translated through the ages of time, but it is a living experience - God speaking to me each day in my heart.

Rev. Bob Ellis