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Ridgecrest is a large Baptist-run assembly ground, nestled in the mountains of western North Carolina. All summer long, every year, thousands of Christians come to Ridgecrest for training, inspiration, Bible study, and challenge.
A few years ago, during a conference, people began to notice a man hanging around the grounds. He did not look like he had just stepped out of your typical Sunday School class. His clothes were tattered and torn; they looked like something even the Salvation Army would throw away. His face had not been visited by a razor for a long time. His shoes could best be described by the title of Hymn No. 2 in the book – “Holy, Holy, Holy”! And worst of all, there was the BO. You know about BO? Let’s just say that when you got close, you did not get a whiff of Chanel No. 5. This young man was clearly “not one of us”, not the kind of person you normally see at Christian campgrounds.
What did he do? Not much, really. He did not approach anyone. He did not harass anybody. He did not ask for money. He mostly just hung around. When chapel services were held, he would walk across the front and sit down. When classes were under way, he would lie down on the grassy slopes nearby. And when meals were being served, he would stand on the dining hall porch, not far from the long lines of people clutching their meal tickets. No begging, no demands, just standing around.
At the end of the week they announced that there would be a special speaker for the closing service, and that he would speak on the theme, “Inasmuch as you have not done it unto one of the least of these, you have not done it unto me.” They promised that the audience would truly remember this message. The hymns were sung, the prayers were prayed, the choir sang, and the special speaker approached the podium. Who do you think was that special speaker? Who brought that memorable message?
That scruffy young man! That hangaround bum with the worn-out clothing, the messy beard, and the offensive BO! It turns out that he was a young pastor who had been asked to play a part by the organizers of the conference. And his message stung as he said to the crowd, “No one tried to include me in anything. No one asked me if I needed help. No one invited me to the dining hall. No one sat down to listen to my story. A few put religious tracts into my hand. One or two pulled out a dollar bill and gave it to me. But most of you turned your eyes and pretended not to see me. My appearance offended you, and you left me out.”
Appearances are deceiving. He looked like a beggar and a bum, but he was a pastor. (Please don’t anyone say that’s all the same thing!).
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I can remember not too many years ago when we used an old hand operated flour sifter. It was a simple little contraption that consisted of a little tin can with a screen in the bottom and a crank that turned a wire against that screen. Flour wasn’t as fine in those days as it is now and it always needed sifting to get rid of the lumps.
The fine particles that made it through were used in the baking process but there was always some rock-hard pieces left over that were useless and were cast away.
Our lives are placed through a sifter. With each new day, the crank is turned and a few more of our rough edges disappear as the finer parts of our new man and the coarse parts of our sinful, fleshly nature are revealed so that these character flaws can be discarded.
Illus.: Tom & Eleanor
I’d like to tell you the story of two children. The parents of the first child were somewhat mismatched. His father was unemployed with no formal schooling. His mother was a teacher. This child, born in Port Huron, Michigan, was estimated to have an IQ of 81. He was withdrawn from school after three months--and was considered backward by school officials. The child enrolled in school two years late due to scarlet fever and respiratory infections. And he was going deaf. His emotional health was poor. He was stubborn, aloof, and showed very little emotion. He liked mechanics. He also liked to play with fire and burned down his father’s barn. He showed some manual dexterity, but used very poor grammar. But he did want to be a scientist or a railroad mechanic.
The second child showed not much more promise either. This child was born of an alcoholic father. As a child she was sickly, bedridden, and often hospitalized. She was considered erratic and withdrawn. She would bite her nails and had numerous phobias. She wore a back-brace from a spinal defect and wo...
“Just As We Are!” Exodus 14:13-14 Key verse(s) 14:“The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”
Keeping a positive outlook on life is pretty hard when nothing much positive seems to be happening in your life. Let’s face it, when things are going bad, really bad, there is nothing worse than a confrontation with an eternal optimist. That’s the last thing you really need. At times like that you would much rather hear “You poor thing!” than “It could be worse!” Sure, it could be worse; it could always be worse. But, at the moment, you don’t need to be reminded of the fact that there is still more trouble that could be hidden somewhere and it is just a matter of time before it catches up with you. When you feel like that, you really would prefer some sympathy. Or, in the very least, if they don’t feel your pain they could pretend?
Life isn’t fair and the fact that some people have more money, more power, more beauty, more –– more and better of everything, is pretty good evidence of that. Sometimes you just want to sink down into the depths of the inequity and dwell in it, wallow in it and let it cover you. If you can’t overcome it, then at least you can learn to cohabit with it. If you can learn to live with your own inability or inadequacy, at least you have accomplished something of value. Unfortunately, when we open the door to defeat, we open the door to negativism and bitterness. Thus embittered, the value of life itself may become meaningless.
“One of the greatest evangelistic hymns of all time was written by a woman who knew well the release and peace that come from confessing one’s sins and failure to God. ‘Just As I Am,’ a hymn frequently sung at the close of evangelistic meetings, was written by Charlotte Elliott, who at one time had been very bitter with God about the circumstances in her life. Charlotte was an invalid from her youth and deeply resented the constraints her handicap placed on her activities. In an emotional outburst on one occasion, she expressed those feelings to Dr. Cesar Malan, a minister visiting her home. He listened and was touched by her distress, but he insisted that her problems should not divert her attention from what she most needed to hear. He challenged her to turn her life over to God, to come to Him just as she was, with all her bitterness and anger.
She resented what seemed to be an almost callous attitude on his part, but God spoke to her through him, and she committed her life to the Lord. Each year on the anniversary of that decision, Dr. Malan wrote Charlotte a letter, encouraging her to continue to be strong in the faith. But even as a Christian she had doubts and struggles. One particularly sore point was her inability to effectively got out and serve the Lord. At times she almost resented her brother’s successful preaching and evangelistic ministry. She longed to be used of God herself, but she felt that her health and physical condition prevented it. Then in 1836, on the fourteenth anniversary of her conversion, while she was alone in the evening, the forty-seven-year-old Charlotte Elliott wrote her spiritual autobiography in verse. Here, in the prayer of confession, she poured out her feelings to God––feelings that countless individuals have identified with in the generations that followed. The third stanza, perhaps more than the others, described her pilgrimage: Just as I am, tho tossed about––With many a conflict, many a doubt,––Fightings and fears within, without,––O Lamb of God, I come! I come!
Many years later, when reflecting on the impact his sister made in penning this one hymn, the Reverend Henry...
Illustration:The Dog and His Master
C.S. Lewis likened God’s use of adversity to walking a dog. If the dog gets its leash wrapped around a pole and tries to continue running forward, he will only tighten the leash more. Both the dog and the owner are after the same end, forward motion, but the owner must resist the dog by pulling him opposite the direction he wants to go. The master, sharing the same intention but understanding better than the dog where he really wants to...