Treasure Box at My Door

I am perpetually amazed at the way God works. The last two posts on this blog addressed just one problem of many in today’s churches.  Yes, the tone was negative and comments underscored the grief experienced by many where the lack of love in Christian churches, often starting at the pastoral level,  has had a tragic effect.

I found a large box on my porch the other morning. It was heavy.  Seeing it was sent to me, and not expecting any deliveries, I was curious.  Well, friends, it was a box of treasures—treasures so rich that I am still taking out the gems and admiring their facets.

It was a box of books, just the latest of many sent to me over the years from a long time friend who has an eye for literary riches of a spiritual nature. Occasionally, she sends them on to me. The books inside the box deserve a much longer post, because the story surrounding them is long. and each one is special. But because we had just been discussing pastors and churches here at the Hope Blog, and in a decidedly discouraging way,  one of the book treasures in that box is the topic here today.

I was at a church recently, the one I referenced in my first post on churches and looked down at the hymnal during the singing. The name underneath the hymn, the composer of the hymn tune, was William Henry Havergal. I smiled inwardly. His daughter Frances Ridley Havergal is the author of many familiar hymns still sung in hymn-using churches today. (Take My Life, and Let It Be, Like a River Glorious, and I Am Trusting Thee Lord Jesus are just three I will mention.) Her father was a great musician and also  wrote many hymn tunes familiar to hymn lovers.

William Havergal is the subject of one of the books in the box. I will write more on these new paperback books, freshly available, in a moment.

Here’s a little description of William Henry Havergal, an English pastor of the 19th Century.

William Henry Havergal (whose youngest child, Frances Ridley Havergal, is more known today) was a wonderfully gifted musician, both as a performer and as a composer, but he declined the offer of a music professorship at Oxford to enter pastoral ministry. Over nearly  five decades, his sermons, home visits, care of his flock, diligent ministry, was a “heart work,” bringing many to true faith in Christ and building up believers. His extant sermons (so few now remaining among the more than 2,500 briefly listed in his handwritten book, listing only the date, location, and Scripture text for the sermons he preached from 1816 to 1869) are gold, similar in valuable edification to Spurgeon, Ryle, Lloyd-Jones. The same as his written works, his life was a true example of the believer, and he could say like Paul, “be ye followers of me even as I also am of Christ.” He so much loved his Saviour, and earnestly wanted and sought for others to know and love Him. He is summed up in the Latin phrase that he would write, “Laus Deo.” “Praise be to God.” The Lamb is all the glory in Emmanuel’s land. This collection has the four volumes of his Sermons (all that have been found, leaving us wanting more), his sterling account of “A Wise and Holy Child,” nearly all of his extant hymns and poems, and a brief glimpse at his music compositions; at the end is his daughter’s biography Records of the Life of the Rev. William Henry Havergal, with also others’ statements and articles about him. His life and works can be described by these two comments that he said about his sermon (quoted in his daughter’s biography): “A lady calling, expressing her thanks to him for his sweet and comforting sermon, he meekly answered, ‘The Lord make it profitable, and then take all the praise.’ Another thanking him said it was a precious sermon. ‘Nothing in itself,’ he said, ‘all nothing; but the Lord can make it precious, and may He do so.’ ” (Taken from a longer portion on the back of the book, Works by William Henry Havergal.

Here are a couple other significant things said about this minister of the Gospel.

“He advised, he admonished, he sympathized; and, to the utmost of his means, he aided those who stood in need of aid.   An throughout his ministry he was eminently “faithful.”  HE did not hesitate, though he well knew the cost, to battle manfully with the vices and frivolities of the day. None could hearken to his conversation and think it possible to serve God and mammon.”

And this.

“…As genial as he was gentlemanly, refined in his tastes, high-souled, and gifted, his own immediate home circle, relatives and numerous friends, were all perfectly devoted to him; and no one could possibly approach him, even in a casual way, without feeling the radiation of Christian light and warmth from his heart and beaming face, for to the core he was a true man:  true to God, and true to his fellow men: ( from Biographical  Sketch of W.H.H. by Andrew James Symington)

Someone who commented on one of my earlier posts asked about what a true pastor  would look like in action. I think in these two brief descriptions of William Henry Havergal, you find the basics.   He had sympathy, a radiation of Christian light and warmth to all he met, a true man, true to God and true to his fellow men, he helped those in need to the full extent of his ability. In short, a pastor. A shepherd.

So I picked up this very large volume that contains the surviving sermons and other writings  of Rev. Havergal. This brings us to the other thing so frequently lamented today – the state of the pulpits—the sermons or lack thereof. Within seconds of picking up the book, I was plunged into a world of detailed, solid Bible teaching. The early messages in the book went straight to the Old Testament and emphasized the importance of Christians reading these books in depth, something frequently rejected today in favor of the New Testament alone. The first sermon I read was on the Ark of the Covenant. I won’t go any farther, except to say that the sermon contains rich, rich teaching, the like of which is  very rarely heard today in an American evangelical church.

You enter a different world with Old Path preachers when you read or hear their sermons.  They were serious men of God, with hearts of love for the listener, who spoke the truth, and did not hold back when they needed to say unpopular things. They always, always exalted Christ and preached the pure word of God to whose in their care.

My treasure box is filled with so much, I am still taking in what arrived at my door. It came at a time when I needed the encouragement. Isn’t that like the Lord? Elijah was in the cave and needed food, and it was brought to him by the ravens. This box came to me on the wings of the US Mail, sent by God’s own kindly hand through his loving servant, my friend.  How wonderful it is that  God still meets our needs before we even ask.

If you would like to know what was in my treasure box, go to Amazon.com and type in the search window the following words exactly. “Havergal Chalkley Paperback”. Every one of these books contains wonderful things.  The book I have referenced above about William Henry Havergal is here at this link. It is a large book. Some of the books in this collection of books are for children, written by Frances Havergal, some contain music from Frances and her father, some are devotionals. Click on each book listed on Amazon  for a description. On page 2 of the listings, you will find the Five Royal Books. These are the very first Havergal books I ever encountered years ago when we were in South Carolina. They are devotionals. If you start with those, you can’t go wrong.

William Havergal was a shepherd long ago.  Thanks to the work of those committed to seeing this project through, these sermons, and the beautiful writings of Frances Ridley Havergal, his daughter, have been brought to life again. They are here for a reason. Those needing spiritual food, comfort and a glimpse of real teaching need look no farther than these books.  God can send food with the “ravens” in these times of great spiritual poverty.  I know, because he sent a box of good spiritual food  straight to my door. And now I can share it with you.

(You can see my markers in the book in the box. I’m already using my post-it notes for page reference!)

A Little Audio Joy for You

Here’s a little two-minute joy blip for your day. The title should be “Schön Rosmarin”, Beautiful Rosemary. These lovely little melodies seem like the Lord opened the clouds and dropped them down. All beauty comes from God and points back to His creative genius. Our ability to even perceive beauty is from Him. So enjoy. I can’t even listen to this without smiling!

Follow-up: Lonely in a (Church) Crowd Pt. 2

My post, Lonely in a (Church) Crowd, clearly  hit a nerve. There is no question that there is a problem with this issue in churches today. In this follow-up post, I wanted to address a few things based on messages and comments I have received.

My own experiences with this problem, as everyone’s experiences are, are made up of a unique history and set of circumstances.  I do bring to the subject matter, due to my age, more than a little experience. I have a lifetime of living this, including those experiences of my childhood in various churches, and also the added insights gained by talking with countless people through my 23 years in Christian radio.  I know that which I am addressing.

There are some things I am not saying in my comments about the subject. I received a message from a new church elder from a denomination I am personally familiar with. The message, in essence, put blame and responsibility on me, dismissed the importance of what I mentioned and then went a step farther to say that Tom and I should start a home church, so the imperfections of the average church wouldn’t make their way in. It was pure sarcasm, of course. Duly noted. (I would add that this man has no knowledge of my husband or me and our lives.)

So what wasn’t I saying in my first post? I wasn’t saying that churches must reach a state of perfection before they are good enough for me or others.  Hardly.  I do have a problem with a church where a pastor’s wife can walk up to tithing members of many years and ask them their names and  if they are visiting.   (True story from a family member.)  I do have a problem with churches where people shuffle in, week in and week out, nodding politely at people whose names they don’t even know, and that’s OK with them. For decades.

I do have a problem with pastors  (or elders) who can make trips for the sake of teaching those in other states or countries and yet seem unable to drive 2 minutes down the road to visit those with clear spiritual struggles, or just visit them at all.  There isn’t much glory in that kind of thing, visiting those who can’t do much for you. It is, however, where real ministry begins.

I have a problem with loveless places of worship and loveless faces, and women who can talk endlessly with their BFF’s, while all the stranger gets is the sight of their backs in the Narthex (lobby, or whatever you call it in your church.)

I also have a problem with elders like the one who wrote who dismiss, callously, the concerns of a Christian woman like me who writes of something that is a reality, a tragic reality, for many. What’s missing? Loving concern. It’s amazing how far that goes in staunching the bleeding in hearts, it’s amazing how that balm of kindness can heal wounds. Suggesting that it is a woman thing, with hysterical females sobbing into their hankies at not being liked, is exactly the spirit that drives many from the church entirely. And I have another bit of news:  The experiences I have written about are not just those of women, as evidenced by the comments on social media to this article and here at the blog. I spoke with someone last week who described the treatment her  husband receives from others in the church. They’ve been there for several years, but he’s quiet and humble. The kind nobody notices or bothers with.  No, it is not just women experiencing the problem in churches that are too busy with their church programs, activities, etc.  to notice their own right in front of them.

It’s a lack of love. That’s the real problem.  Not public relations or manipulation towards the end of membership growth, but love. That kind of love has to be placed in hearts by God, the one supposedly being worshiped in church each Sunday. If you can’t reflect that in the house of God of all places, something is terribly off.

Additionally, for those who recommend trying to find others in the same boat within a church, that’s one suggestion, and a good one. But realize that not everyone is equipped physically or emotionally or spiritually to continue to try in the face of ongoing failure to break in.  Some will just give up.

I always believed that “church” was supposed to mean more than an hour on Sunday morning, a brief crush in a crowded hallway and then the car. A family should mean more than that, or am I wrong? After the preaching of the Word, shouldn’t it mean relationships, shared burdens, shared rejoicing over things, a place to serve and a place to find help when you are in need?  If so, than why are so many not finding that?

Anyone can slide in and out of a pew or seat each week. Whether “church” in the fullest sense goes beyond that takes more than a lonely person wishing things were otherwise. I commend those with the tenacity to keep trying. Not everyone can do that. Do we care about those who can’t or even recognize them?

The elder who wrote to me insisted that “Word and Sacrament” were all that was needed. Stuff and mortify your hurt  and shut up. But Word and Sacrament are given in a context. When that context is unloving, uncaring, and it functions  like an assembly line in a factory, (here’s Communion, you’re good to go for another week) when Christ’s love for us is the whole point of the Sacred Meal, you create stumbling blocks spiritually. Rather than open hearts to God’s Word, you shut them down. The elder who wrote to me doesn’t have to like that fact, but it’s the truth.  And God help those in clerical clothes and professing Christian leaders who put stumbling blocks where there don’t have to be any.

A lack of love is the hallmark of our dark times. It’s no surprise that the church is this way as well, as it seems to take its clues from the culture, rather than from the Scriptures.  And yes, Orthodoxy is crucial, but putting that into practice in our lives is where ministry begins.

We can only try to run counter to that spirit in how we treat those we meet in a church and out of it, for those who have no church.  Program heavy institutions calling themselves “churches” can do what they want. The real ministry of the church – meaning the people –  is still one on one, person to person, in good times and bad. God seems to be using many of us outside the institutional church in various ways.  Small lights out there where there aren’t any. And it’s a shame that these things even have to be said. Consider it said.

Lonely In a (Church) Crowd

If the world can be a lonely place, it can be at its loneliest in a church. Through the years I have had conversations more than once with those who, like me, have  experienced this first hand. With the advent of the evangelical ultra, super, gigachurch (that’s actually a term), the loneliness experienced only gets more pronounced. When church feels like an airport terminal, and everyone but you has somewhere to go, the feeling of being alone is intensified.

But big churches don’t have a corner on that. It can be that way in any church. Humans tend to flock to groups or cliques according to their pecking order in the social hierarchy. All sorts of unspoken social rubrics come into play, and for an outsider, for someone who doesn’t understand the rules, there isn’t much you can do to find a place to fit in. After a while, you become truly invisible, like the pews or the table with promotional brochures in the lobby.

I’ve written before about how the shiny people, as I call them, the “high capacity”, attractive and talented ones set the rules. As newcomers, they are actively pursued. Pastors love seeing this type come in the door. After giving up hope long ago about ever fitting in, I have watched these dynamics at work for years. At one church Tom and I visited several years ago, the Corvette-driving flashy man who was the pastor greeted us warmly at the door. I call these the “all teeth and hair types” who have enormous, attractive smiles and great hair (I laughed  out loud typing that, because there isn’t always the hair), but their eyes are roving around at the door after church, even as they shake your hand, looking for more exciting prospects to pursue. If you’re looking for exciting, Tom and I don’t cut it!

But it isn’t always the pastor’s fault. (Nothing wrong with Corvettes if your ministerial salary runs to that, I guess), because church is far more than the man in the pulpit. That’s what I wanted to write about today.

I found myself in a new church recently. It was a very small congregation, very small, as in about 30 people all told. After the service, I was about to leave when an older lady who had caught my eye during the handshake portion came up to me and invited me to come back to the fellowship hall for coffee. I was surprised. I’ll be honest, I was pleased at the invite.

I sat down at a table with about 7 others, all of them a good 20 years older than me. Quite frankly, I felt very much at home with them. I explained that I had hearing loss and might have to have something repeated (room noise makes it a lot worse), and they all laughed and said they did also. We sat and chatted for a while, the lady who invited me kindly included me in the conversation.

When I finally got up to leave, she asked me for my name and phone number which I gave her. It was something that is certainly a normal thing to do for any visitor, a formality  that usually happens when you fill out your name on a card. But it meant a great deal that she asked–that a human being asked.

“I hope we’ll see you again,” she said.

Why is this so difficult in churches? I have spent a lifetime in evangelical circles through the years, including my childhood, in churches of nearly every brand and description. The ones where the people themselves made an honest effort to be inclusive and interested in the stranger at their door can be counted on one hand. Everyone stays where it’s comfortable. Yes, they do.

We have no idea who is around us. Sometimes there is someone we cross paths with who is living in deep depression. They make a last trip to the surface, to use that analogy, before going under the final time.  (I could write a great deal on that topic having lost a friend to suicide.) That darkness can be so all encompassing that only a sudden encounter with the bright light of kindness can break in. Why would we not want that kindness to be extended in the house of God? Why should anyone leave a church feeling lonely?

I don’t care about how many theological symposiums, conferences, work-shops, missionary banquets, women’s retreats, men’s prayer breakfasts,  etc. etc. you want to hold in a given year. Who is lonely? Who cares that you came in the door? Who is actually coming to your church and why? If the pastor is too busy doing pastor things, surely someone in your church could be on the lookout. Right? It can sometimes be just one person who makes the difference.

That small church followed through with a phone call. The pastor wanted to know if he could do anything to help and just wanted to make contact. They have the treatment of a visitor right there. Whatever else the church might lack, it has that right.

I have a growing intolerance for churches, regardless of their doctrinal rectitude, who do not get this. I remember posting the sermon clip from Richard Owen Roberts a while back. “No man cares for my soul.” He tells of the loveless churches we have today, and how in Wheaton, Illinois, a simple invitation from his wife to an international student there at Wheaton College saved him from a planned suicide. A simple invitation to lunch and conversation.

If you don’t care for the humans you encounter in your church, why would you care about anybody outside of your church? And if you don’t care about them physically, why would you care about their souls? Answer: Most Christians don’t care about either. I know, because I have experienced it myself.

Nothing I’ve said here is unique or original, but it’s what’s on my heart and mind today. Don’t talk about the love of God in your church if you have no intention of showing it.

Love Without Walls Is No Love at All

A protester this week held up a sign that said, “No walls for the Land of the Free.”  No walls. No barriers. Nothing. The false thinking expressed on that sign applies to far more than the current political scene.

Imagine a random person of unknown origin passes our home some night. There are no locks on the doors, no barriers, because my husband and I have decided we will just live in “love” to all those who are in need. No walls, no boundaries. No checking as to who these strangers are.

The individual, and then another, and another comes right in, and they help themselves to the food Tom has bought for our family. One assaults our daughter and me, the others take off with the things we own to be sold for cash.  Tom watches it all passively,  eyes filled with compassion and tears  for the strangers who have harmed us.  Life without walls, only love. Right? The whole scene should provoke moral outrage, not admiration. Because that’s not love.

Love that does not protect is not love at all. Love bounds in what is valuable and precious and ensures its safety. The locks on our doors are there to protect us. Tom protects us and keeps a watchful eye out for our well-being, because he  loves us, and he hates what is a threat to us.

Real love hates, yes, hates, what threatens the object of that love. It is prepared to erect walls around it to preserve and protect. People care about their valuables and entrust them to banks with vaults for a reason. They lock out what threatens the things they care about.

This is why nations and leaders that don’t protect the freedoms and safety they enjoy  by erecting strong boundaries are fools.  Any help they provide to those in genuine need should take place only when what is most important is protected.

Likewise, men and women who don’t protect their marriages and their children don’t show true love at all. Love erects a barrier so that harm does not come to what is precious. Borders are there to preserve and protect. Without them, nothing of value is safe.

wall

 

Where Love is Found

It’s not in Valentine’s Day bouquets and chocolates that true love can be seen and felt, as nice as those things are.

It’s in the dear voice in the hospital room when a scary diagnosis comes. “It’s OK. We’re in this together.”

Love is in the extended hug at the end of a long day when a tired husband comes in from the cold, having toiled so that wife and child can have what they need.

It’s found in the man who carries the laundry baskets up the stairs for a wife who struggles physically.

It’s in the clean laundry a husband finds in his drawer and the meals prepared, however simple.

Love is there in forgiveness when an apology comes from one or the other.

It is in the warm hand that covers a cold one when life’s tragedies seem overwhelming.

Love is in the eye contact where a smile is never far away.

It is in the ear of the listening spouse who may have heard the same story many times, but doesn’t say so, because he knows something lies underneath the telling of it.

Love lies in deep understanding of where a spouse is coming from, even when they are at their worst.

It is real love that patches up hurt places, that listens, that protects and defends. It’s real love that builds up the other, that looks through kindly eyes, that supports, that is loyal and steadfast.

This is what young adults, especially, need to know in this tragic, broken world of fakery and fraud in counterfeit love and marriage.

When you remove all the contemporary wedding frippery and glitter, all the Instagram filtered glam of the Big Day, you will have either a foretaste of hell or a glimpse of heaven.

It takes two who are committed, by God’s grace and with his help, to walk through life together with the goal of bringing a little heaven down, whether it be in a hospital room, a little cottage or a castle. It can still be done.

“And standing there…Jane knew that she had found the best. Marriage was not a thing of luxury and soft living, of flaming moments of wild emotion. It was a thing of hardness shared, of spirit meeting spirit of dream matching dream.” ~ The Dim Lantern by Temple Bailey

“…Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no; it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests, and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.”

Shakespeare, Sonnet 116

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” ~ Corinthians 13:!3

Caring Hand on Senior Hand

Savor Them Now

The photo below was posted at a Texas daycare. Parents were too busy on their phones to look into the faces of their dear children who had waited all day for the moment they would have a parent back. Imagine being that child, so proud of your handiwork, waiting to show Mama or Daddy what you’ve made, only to find that they don’t care enough to get off their phones. It brings me to tears.

If such a thing were possible, I wish I could have one day with each of my six children back when they were small. I can remember the feel of each their skin, the bath times, the bed time stories, the meal time fun we had, the times they were sick and I was worried, the hugs and tuck-in rituals, the kisses on their chubby faces. I love each of them more than words can say, and I always will.

Advice from older generations to the younger is not generally received well anymore. Young people don’t want to hear it. The terms “Grandma”and “Grandpa” are used as an insult online frequently to dismiss something an older person has to say. But here is what I would tell a young mom if I could. You have absolutely no idea the speed with which time flies. You hear it often, because it is true. That baby who wakes you up every two hours is a toddler by the end of their first year. Walking. Away from you. Do not resent your children’s impositions on your time. The echo of their small voices in your mind will soon be all you have, and regrets are terrible to live with.

I have to remind myself of these things every day. We have a young child, and some days, I think (as I once did when I was a young mom), I can’t wait until this child can do this herself. But what is different is that now I stop myself from that line of thinking. She will be eight years old this summer. EIGHT. How did that happen? The little girl times will come to an end so very soon that it chokes me up.

At night, I lie awake thinking of her asleep in her bed with the Hello Kitty sheets and her dolls and stuffed animals nearby, and a kind of panic hits me. Was there something else I should have done—should be doing with her? Have I enjoyed and savored this phase enough? She doesn’t know that some nights I get up to kiss her while she’s sleeping. Because she’s growing so fast, and like her siblings, she will be gone before we know it.

Moms (and Dads), whatever else you have to let go, don’t let it be loving and spending time with your little people (or kids whatever their age.) Emmy asked me to play with her the other day, and I was in the middle of something. I wish I had put it down. I promised to make some muffins with her the other day, and we never did. Muffin making is on the agenda after school today. She will be thrilled.

Don’t rush your children to the next developmental phase. Their “littleness” is precious, and they’ll get to the next milestone before you know it. Those soft little hands will soon stop reaching for yours, because they’ll be too big. Something to remember.

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Small Girl, Big Faith

fb_img_1485441432706Emily was not feeling well and was home from school last week. She wanted to watch kids’ shows on PBS, but I said, no, today was a books only day. She got propped up in bed and got her Bible story books, three different ones and spent the day, literally, immersed in them. About 11, she came into the family room where I was and had her face crumpled up with tears coming down. She held open the story of Jesus’ crucifixion with an illustration of Christ on the way to the cross. “This is so sad, Mom. They did this to Jesus.” She said several times, “It’s so sad…” We had a wonderful conversation about what it all meant. She also asked about the two criminals on the cross on each side of Jesus, how one believed and one did not, how Jesus triumphed over death by rising again, how He ascended into heaven and before He left, how He promised He was coming back. She came back several times with questions about Old and New Testament, and showed me the illustration of Jesus with the children, and then, she came back again with the story of Jesus healing the blind man, and again, showing the beautiful illustration of young Jesus at age 12, discussing the Law with the teachers in the Temple.

I have seen a great uptick of interest in our daughter about spiritual things lately. Her love for Jesus is real and it shines in her eyes when she talks about Him. It’s a very sobering responsibility to know that our children are watching and listening to us, and that we can either blunt that faith, destroy it, or nurture it, water it and help it to grow. Having this responsibility with Emily has been a great help to me spiritually. Why? Because the ugliness of this world, the harm done to us by the inexplicable evil we experience—especially from other professing Christians– can cause us to make shipwreck of our own faith. It’s in the simplicity and trust in a child’s eyes and praise that I find my way home again to the Lord many times, and I understand newly, nearly every day, why God places such value on the example of children in the area of faith. All our sophisticated thinking, intellectual pride and self-righteousness drop away when we look into the face of the Savior, like a child, and believe that his atoning wounds on Calvary covered our sin. Thanks be to God.

 

All Lives Matter – Starting in the Womb

The value of a human life in the womb should not be determined by whether or not the child is wanted by the mother.  What kind of madness is that? Throughout history we can see the piles of corpses stacked high from governments and movements and individuals who believed  that certain lives, the ones devalued and “not wanted”,  had lost any right to exist.

Those who believe a child has no value because they are not wanted by the mother should not be surprised when other people groups are also devalued and targeted for destruction. That is the inevitable outcome of situational ethics – morals that change depending on the shifting winds of public sentiment.

The only society that is safe for all is one that values life at all stages. If a society doesn’t, the creeping devaluation of all human life is inevitable. The carnage and growing violence in America, across all socioeconomic lines, is powerful evidence that violence in the womb never stays there.  The culture of death starts with the unborn child.

I’m a proud marcher for life today, even though I cannot be in Washington. God help us all, especially the most vulnerable.

marchforlife